NCRVE Home | Site Search | Product Search

NCRVE Home | Full-Text Documents | Contents | Next Section | Work-Based Learning Database

Linking College and Work:
Exemplary Policies and Practices
of Two-Year College
Work-Based Learning Programs


Debra D. Bragg
University of Illinois

Russell E. Hamm
Arapahoe Community College, Littleton, CO

National Center for Research in Vocational Education
University of California at Berkeley
2030 Addison Street, Suite 500
Berkeley, CA 94704-1674

Supported by
The Office of Vocational and Adult Education
U.S. Department of Education

April, 1996


Project Title: National Center for Research in Vocational Education
Grant Number: V051A30003-95A/V051A30004-95A
Act under which Funds Administered: Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act
P.L. 98-524
Source of Grant: Office of Vocational and Adult Education
U.S. Department of Education
Washington, DC 20202
Grantee: The Regents of the University of California
c/o National Center for Research in Vocational Education
2030 Addison Street, Suite 500
Berkeley, CA 94704
Director: David Stern
Percent of Total Grant Financed by Federal Money: 100%
Dollar Amount of Federal Funds for Grant: $6,000,000
Disclaimer: This publication was prepared pursuant to a grant with the Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education. Grantees undertaking such projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their judgement in professional and technical matters. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official U.S. Department of Education position or policy.
Discrimination: Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states: "No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." Therefore, the National Center for Research in Vocational Education project, like every program or activity receiving financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education, must be operated in compliance with these laws.


Two-year colleges in the United States have a long history of providing work-based learning, especially in association with occupational-technical education. Recently, the nation has placed greater priority on strengthening school-to-work transition programs involving work-based learning by linking secondary and postsecondary curriculum. The federal School-to-Work Opportunities (STWO) Act has stimulated increased activity in the form of local- and state-level work-based learning policy and program implementation. Given this trend, it is important to examine existing work-based learning in the context of two-year college education. Understanding the features of highly effective programs can assist policymakers, practitioners, and scholars in the development of new work-based learning policies, practices, and programs.

This study was conducted over a two-year time period from January 1, 1993, to December 31, 1994. The overall purpose of the study was to obtain a better understanding of existing work-based learning policies, practices, and programs in community, junior, and technical colleges in the United States. Phase One of the study, conducted in 1993, was a census survey of the nation's 1,200 two-year colleges to describe the scope and character of work-based learning programs already in existence, including the key features of what local administrators considered their best health and non-health programs. Readers interested in results of Phase One of the study are referred to Work-Based Learning in Two-Year Colleges in the United States (Bragg, Hamm, & Trinkle, 1995).

The purpose of Phase Two of the study, conducted in 1994 and documented in this report, was to gain a more in-depth understanding of selected exemplary work-based learning programs. The Phase Two research involved field-based case studies designed to provide qualitative observations and in-depth analysis of two-year college work-based learning programs in the United States. The study examined a range of work-based learning models and occupational-technical education programs, and it documented the quality of the programs from the perspective of various stakeholder groups, especially students, faculty, and employers.

Using survey data gathered during Phase One of the study, eight two-year colleges were identified for further in-depth analysis using qualitative methods. Case studies were conducted by a ten-member team made up of personnel representing the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE) and the National Council for Occupational Education (NCOE). A data collection protocol and semistructured interview procedures were introduced to all team members during a two-day training session. Field visits were conducted by a two-person NCRVE-NCOE team to each of ten work-based learning programs in eight two-year colleges. Following the field visits, case study reports were drafted by each team to provide the basis for a day-long debriefing session held in conjunction with the NCOE annual meeting. At this meeting, the major findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the study were generated. Following the debriefing, the case study reports were finalized and combined to create this report.

Based on a careful, multistage selection process, involving extensive data collection and a panel of experts, the following ten work-based learning programs were identified for the study:

The programs ranged in size from only ten students in a Manufacturing Youth Apprenticeship Program in Illinois to over 300 students in the Early Childhood Education program in North Carolina. Students who participated in work-based learning programs in two-year colleges are primarily adult students ranging in age from 25 to 35 years. This was true for all the programs except the Youth Apprenticeship Programs where the students were 18 to 19 years old. Enrollments in particular occupational programs were related to gender. Nearly all the students in early childhood education, management/ marketing, and the health occupations were female. The vast majority of students in Tree Fruit Production (agriculture) and the Manufacturing Youth Apprenticeship Programs were male. Minority students were enrolled in all of the programs, but not to the extent one might expect in some locations. For example, in one region where a large minority population resides and works in the dominant industry, only 4% of the students in the work-based learning program associated with that industry were minority. A similar phenomenon was identified in other settings, although not to such an extreme. Finally, although the percentage of Pell grant recipients was known for only a few of the programs, in all of these, approximately 20% of the students received Pell grants.

Although quantitative results regarding program effectiveness were sketchy, some information was accessible. Outcomes data provided by local administrators portrayed the programs as highly successful at transitioning students into the labor force in training-related employment, often into the same firms used for work-based learning placements. Four programs reported 100% job placement rates, and two others provided rates of 95% and 80%. A health program indicated a 100% licensure passage rate. These outcomes are very positive and local leaders were eager to share them. In fact, most of the local stakeholder groups showed pride and enthusiasm for their work-based learning programs, even when outcomes related to educational or academic attainment were less apparent. For example, program completion or graduation rates ranged from 4% to 67%, but most programs reported graduation rates below 15%. The rate of matriculation from high school to a two-year college was 67% for one Youth Apprenticeship Program. Only two programs reported a transfer rate to the four-year college level. The Nursing Technology Program showed a 21% and the Restaurant Management Program reported a 35% transfer rate. Little or no data was provided regarding other educational outcomes such as academic, occupational-technical, or workplace skill attainment.

The research team documented numerous strengths as well as limitations for the ten selected work-based learning programs. A very important objective of the study was to identify common factors, elements, phenomena, activities, and issues that could help to distinguish or explain exemplary policies and practices of two-year college work-based learning programs. The research team focused attention on this objective from the start and was successful in identifying a set of factors thought to contribute to the overall effectiveness of two-year college work-based learning programs. These factors are described briefly here and in more depth later in this report.

*Strong program leadership entails an individual or small group of individuals who serves as the leader(s)/director(s) and ensures the ongoing success of the program. Strong program leaders/director(s) possess a deep knowledge of the occupation, and they have formal education, credentials, and related work experience. They are actively involved in day-to-day program operations, frequently circulating in local firms where students are engaged in work-based learning. Strong program leader(s)/director(s) are excellent managers and politically savvy. Their hard work, visible commitment, and generous contributions of time and energy keep programs alive and vibrant, and these are essential qualities in a time when education and industry is changing rapidly.

*Exclusive connections between the program and its environment is another factor. The location of the program relative to its industry is a critical factor that operates in three ways: (1) the programs capture the major share of the training market because other competing programs are small and/or ineffectual, (2) the programs are extremely closely connected to the local industry for which they prepare employees, and (3) the programs are perceived as having a direct impact on the local economy since well-qualified employees transition easily into local companies where they are immediately productive.

*Frequent and effective communication with local employers was the essence of the kinds of "close" relationships needed to sustain work-based learning programs. The relationships are nourished by formal and informal communication mechanisms that are carefully planned or sometimes simply emerge out of necessity. Seemingly, the more college personnel and employers/employees are in contact with one another, the stronger the relationship grows. Often the work-based learning programs are bolstered by education-employer partnerships that produce spin-off programs to other parts of the college curriculum, including customized training. Extremely close ties between the two-year college and local employers result in nearly all of the programs providing an "exclusive" training ground for entry- and sometimes also middle-level jobs.

*Beliefs about program excellence help to perpetuate the idea that a work-based learning program is successful and that students and graduates are held to high standards. These beliefs may represent a cultural phenomenon that emerges, at least in part, because of the complex and fluid organizational structure that accompanies work-based learning programs where different stakeholders play crucial roles at different times. The sharing of beliefs of excellence is beneficial to the exemplary programs in several respects. It bonds the various constituencies together and sustains a commitment to the programs. It provides a common understanding of the significance of goals and outcomes, and it helps to perpetuate a positive reputation. Yet, these beliefs may also have limitations because of their potential to limit openness to new ideas, thereby creating a closed system. When this occurs, efforts to reach out to new and diverse stakeholder groups, especially students, may be stifled. Actions to expand or modify in keeping with economic, technological, or societal changes may be diminished. Also, mechanisms to collect rigorous evaluative information in an objective manner may be viewed as superfluous since "everyone knows the program is successful." Local program leaders should monitor "beliefs about program excellence" continuously to ensure they are contributing to keeping the programs vital and effective.

*An effective school-based learning component ensures the programs maintain support from other college personnel and upper-level college administrators. Exemplary programs are well-connected to the rest of the college curriculum, maintaining prominence within the mainstream of campus life. Programs that operate successfully within the structure of the college are supported fully by the occupational-technical and academic curricular functions as well as student support services. Two-year colleges operating school-based enterprises as a part of the work-based learning program seem particularly well-situated to maintain a close linkage with all other curricular activities. A primary advantage of locating the program toward the center of the college is to ensure a fair share of resources and heightened visibility with other internal personnel.

*Adequate and diverse financial support is critical if two-year colleges expect to maintain a sufficient funding base to support existing and potential work-based learning programs. An important benefit of having adequate and steady streams of funding is the ability to create an environment where long-range planning can occur and program growth can be predicted and managed. Exemplary programs seek funding from local, state, and federal sources as well as from the private sector. The nature of private support is usually in the form of providing equipment and supplies, designating personnel to monitor or supervise students working on-site, allocating dedicated space within their facilities, and awarding funds to support student stipends and scholarships. The latter form of support is especially apparent in Youth Apprenticeship Programs where local firms contribute several thousands of dollars toward sponsoring youth apprentices.

*Innovative program and pedagogical features such as multiple teaching, learning, and support strategies are very evident in exemplary programs. Their presence helps to support the notion that teaching- and learning-associated work-based learning is indeed practical, realistic, and applied, while also being academically challenging. Included among the multiple strategies identified in this study are structured individualized plans for student success, college and workplace mentoring systems, articulation agreements from the secondary to the two-year or four-year college levels, a mix of work-based learning models and pedagogical strategies, and personalized documentation combined with formal assessments and standardized performance-based competency profiles.

The factors associated with work-based learning provide insight into the key features of successful programs. We would be remiss, however, to fail to report some of the more troublesome concerns that emerged from our field research. Many of the issues identified by the research team were not altogether unique to this study, but reinforce concerns already known. Yet, in some of the cases, the issues raised are different from those reported in extant literature sources because they address concerns with promulgating work-based learning within the two-year college setting. The issues identified by the research team relate to the proper positioning and sequencing of work-based learning within students' learning programs; problems with too few, inadequate, or poorly prepared and monitored worksite organizations; employer preferences for adult workers and perceptions of problems with engaging youths in serious work-based learning experiences; potentially discriminatory practices associated with selecting students from large pools of applicants; and excessive demands on students because of the extension of college curriculum beyond normal expectations.

Finally, six recommendations are offered by the NCRVE-NCOE research team, primarily to policymakers at all levels of government as well as to local practitioners. These recommendations take into consideration the unique needs and contributions of two-year colleges relative to the creation of coordinated workforce preparation systems at the local, state, and national levels. The recommendations are directed toward the provision of adequate and stable funding; the need for educators to play a more prominent role in preparing employers and employees to provide meaningful work-based learning experiences; the increased recognition of postsecondary work-based learning opportunities, especially for adults; the merits of reconfigured and strengthened co-op education models where adult students take responsibility for monitoring more of their own learning as well as that of others; the need for senior college administrators to show more active and visible support for work-based learning; and the need for more systemic approaches involving the creation of standards and credentialing mechanisms and state or regional delivery strategies.


We want to express our gratitude to the National Center for Research in Vocational Education (NCRVE) and the National Council for Occupational Education (NCOE) for supporting this research. We especially thank the members of the NCOE Task Force on Work-Based Learning who supplied the brainpower and energy to make this project successful. They are Mary Burnett, North Seattle Community College; Robert Day, Mountain Empire Community College; Sandra Foster, Riverside Community College; James Jacobs, Macomb Community College; David Sargent of the Georgia Department of Technical and Adult Education; Kay Trinkle, Dakota County District 917, Minnesota; George Johnston, Parkland College; and Paula Puckett, University of Illinois. Their individual and collective contributions to this project cannot be overstated. Without them, this project would not have been accomplished.

Of course, many others contributed to the project and we cannot forget them. We are indebted to William Reger for his technical editing and word processing of the manuscript. We also thank three anonymous reviewers who critiqued an early draft of this report. Finally, as always, we are appreciative of the contributions of the staff of the Materials Distribution Services unit of NCRVE. Together, the efforts of all of these individuals and countless others have culminated in a research effort for which we are enormously proud.

Debra D. Bragg
Russell E. Hamm


In recent years, the concept of work-based learning has drawn increased attention from the public and private sectors for two primary reasons: (1) to create and sustain effective workforce preparation systems and (2) to improve teaching and learning practices. First, work-based learning provides a tangible way to bring together education and work to strengthen the economy. This argument is at the heart of the federal School-to-Work Opportunities (STWO) Act passed by the U.S. Congress in May 1994. This new federal legislation is an outgrowth of many years of deliberation about how to improve existing workforce preparation systems. In reports issued by numerous groups (e.g., the Brookings Institution [Nothdurft, 1989], Jobs for the Future [1990, 1991], National Alliance of Business [1992], U.S. Department of Education [1991, 1993], U.S. Department of Labor [1989, 1992], U.S. General Accounting Office [1991], and the William T. Grant Foundation [1988a, 1988b, 1991]), a strong relationship is purported between poor or inadequate schooling and low academic and technical skill levels among recent high school graduates and some adult workers. Rapid changes in the workplace are expected to heighten skill demands relative to new job entrants and incumbent workers. Without greater attention and resources directed to preparing the workforce, the nation's economic difficulties are expected to continue or even grow (Marshall & Tucker, 1992; Reich, 1991). Often solutions involve the development of improved workforce preparation education and training systems. Work-based learning is a strategy to build stronger partnerships between schools and employers, to enhance technical and academic skills among workers, and, ultimately, to contribute to the nation's economic well-being relative to the rest of the world.

The economic argument for work-based learning is circulated widely, but it is not the only rationale given. A case is also made for work-based learning as a means of improving teaching and learning practices in efforts to reform schooling. In the view of some educators, work-based learning represents a more highly effective pedagogy than traditional school-based instructional methods. Advocates suggest work-based learning is more practical and realistic (sometimes also called situated, contextualized, or simply applied). Learning imbedded in work provides a richer context than traditional schooling where the teaching of subject matter is abstract and decontextualized. Berryman and Bailey (1992), Hamilton, (1990), and Rosenbaum, Stern, Hamilton, Hamilton, and Berryman (1992) assert that work-based learning offers a means to bridge the gap between theory and practice that exists in many traditional school settings, a gap that diminishes student motivation to learn.

Rosenbaum et al. (1992) note that work-based learning can provide the vehicle to employ cognitive apprenticeships, revealing parallels between the roles of teacher and learner and master and apprentice. Building on this notion, Berryman (1995) suggests a new paradigm for learning that is based on the cognitive apprenticeship idea. According to Berryman, cognitive apprenticeships address four characteristics of an ideal learning environment: (1) content, (2) methods, (3) sequencing, and (4) sociology. She believes cognitive apprenticeships can provide valuable approaches to teaching and learning when combined with work-based learning opportunities. Research conducted by Evanciew (1995) confirms the effectiveness of the cognitive apprenticeship paradigm when used in conjunction with youth apprenticeships, an approach to work-based learning advocated in the STWO legislation.

By facilitating apprenticeship-style learning in the workplace, linked to relevant and challenging school-based learning, Halperin (1994) suggests that many more students, particularly those considered noncollege bound, will be better served than with traditional pedagogical approaches. The idea of work-based learning has gathered momentum partly because it is seen as an approach that has the potential in theory, if not yet in practice, to reach all students, particularly the noncollege bound (Kazis & Goldberger, 1995). Corson and Silverberg (1993) are among those who argue the existing educational system is failing noncollege-bound youth and limiting their potential to transition successfully into stable, high-wage employment. The basis of this problem is a deep-rooted separation between work preparatory (vocational) and college preparatory (academic) education:

America's emphasis on college preparation has isolated academic from vocational education and weakened schools' ability to prepare youths for the demands of employment. . . . Because many youths learn best through hands-on experience, the separation between academic and vocational high school programs aggravates the difficulties youths have in acquiring important basic skills. Many youths, particularly those confronted with depressed local job markets and evidence that high school completion does not lead to rewarding employment, view the link between academic and successful employment as tenuous. (p. 3)

Particularly among reformers of secondary education who advocate a closer integration between vocational and academic education, the work-based learning concept has received a warm reception (e.g., see several chapters in Grubb, 1995a & 1995b). To many experts, the notion of integration of vocational and academic education and the idea of work-based learning are highly compatible. Kazis and Goldberger (1995) state that "the two innovations are mutually reinforcing" (p. 171). Supporting both the economic and pedagogical rationale for work-based learning, Bailey (1995) suggests that better connections between vocational and academic instruction and workplace learning can "play an important role in strengthening the effectiveness of the workforce" (pp. 36-37).

Postsecondary Involvement in Work-Based Learning

Whereas the idea of offering work-based learning opportunities to more high school students--or possibly even all students--seems innovative or possibly even revolutionary, such experiences are not uncommon for students in two-year community, junior, and technical colleges (henceforth referred to as two-year colleges). Based on a nationwide survey of two-year colleges conducted in the fall of 1993, over three-quarters of the nation's two-year colleges reported engaging students in work-based learning. Occupational-technical education and customized or contract training are two areas where students actively participate in work-based learning opportunities (Bragg, Hamm, & Trinkle, 1995). On average, each of the nearly 500 two-year colleges responding to the 1993 survey reported that 18% of all students enrolled in occupational-technical education were participating in some form of work-based learning. One-quarter of the colleges reported that the majority of students in customized or contract training were engaged in work-based learning. Outside of occupational-technical education in areas such as transfer or liberal studies, remedial or developmental education, and continuing or community education, very few students engaged in work-based learning.

These findings corroborate results of the most recent National Assessment of Vocational Education (NAVE), showing that work-based learning is widespread at the two-year postsecondary level in occupational-technical education. In relation to the NAVE study, Boesel, Rahn, and Deich (1994) found that within the postsecondary level "the range of work experience programs and the variety of linkages with employers and other non-university organizations is quite broad" (p. 143). They described vocational-technical education programs at the postsecondary level as being substantially stronger than secondary programs, particularly in community colleges.

The specific model of work-based learning (e.g., co-op, clinical-professional, youth apprenticeship) used by two-year colleges is related to the occupational-technical programs offered by the schools (Bragg et al., 1995). For example, most two-year colleges offer certificate and/or associate degree nursing programs, and nearly all of these programs require that students participate in the clinical-professional work-based learning model. With this approach, students take a combination of vocational and academic coursework offered in classrooms and laboratories on campus. In addition, students must engage in learning at the work site to obtain a credential in the profession. Other health occupations such as dental hygiene and radiologic technology require that students participate in similar work-based learning experiences. In addition, other professional fields such as education, law enforcement, and social work engage students in the clinical-professional model of work-based learning. Although some health-care providers provide financial subsidies and other political support, rarely are students paid by employers for their time in clinical-professional work experiences. Programs utilizing the clinical-professional model are often the most expensive of any educational programs offered by two-year colleges.

Outside of a few professional fields such as health and education, co-op is the work-based learning model of choice for the fields of business and marketing, engineering, agriculture, and human services. Besides the clinical-professional model, co-op is the most prevalent work-based learning model in the two-year college environment. Boesel et al. (1994) report,

[T]he anecdotal evidence from a variety of small studies of postsecondary co-op programs appears to be positive. Researchers have found that compared to non-co-op students at the same college, co-op students are more interested in their jobs, see a connection between their job and future (career) jobs, report more opportunities for learning at their jobs, and see the connection between school and work. The effect of these connections on subsequent labor market outcomes is still unknown. (pp. 144)
The NAVE described the co-op model as the most widespread of all work-based learning models. However, that report (Boesel et al., 1994) did not attempt to identify the professional-clinical model among the postsecondary programs studied as was done by Bragg et al. (1995). Rather, it focused on work-based learning models more prevalent at the secondary level such as co-op and school-based enterprise.

Co-op has some important differences from the clinical-professional model because it is not as highly regulated by external bodies and often it is not as structured. For these reasons, co-op has become quite widespread at both the secondary and postsecondary levels. This model has the added benefit that students are usually paid for their time in the work setting. Acknowledging these important differences from the clinical-professional model, there are similarities. For instance, co-op encourages a combination of vocational and academic coursework that is coordinated with work experience, and students earn college credit for these experiences.

Two approaches are predominant with the co-op model: (1) students are taught on campus for part of the day, and they work for another part of the day; or (2) students rotate between college and work on a semester-by-semester basis (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1995). Even though this second approach is more prevalent in four-year colleges and universities, it does occur in two-year colleges as well. Whichever approach is used, highly successful co-op programs require written agreements between schools and employers, specific worksite training plans, frequent supervision of students, and ongoing assessment by a worksite and school coordinator (Stern, Finkelstein, Stone, Latting, & Dornsife, 1994a). Boesel et al. (1994) attribute several positive benefits to co-op at the postsecondary level such as heightened student interest in jobs, clearer connections between the current job and future jobs, more opportunities to learn on the job, and better linkages between school and work. The economic outcomes of postsecondary co-op experiences are relatively unknown.

Other work-based learning models such as school-based enterprise, formal adult apprenticeship, or youth apprenticeship exist in the two-year college environment, but they are offered much less frequently (Boesel et al., 1994; Bragg et al., 1995; Casner-Lotto, 1988; Stern et al., 1994a). Few two-year college administrators perceived of school-based (or school-sponsored) enterprises as an exemplary approach to work-based learning in their institutions. This is not to suggest school-based enterprises do not exist or that they are not effective in the context of the postsecondary level. It does indicate, however, that relative to other models such as clinical-professional or co-op, school-based enterprises are not seen as the basis for exemplary work-based learning (according to the definition offered in this study). Similar conclusions were drawn regarding formal adult apprenticeship programs. Casner-Lotto (1988) reports that adult apprenticeships are not a rarity in two-year colleges, but when they exist they are usually small and highly job specific. The programs usually support the local skilled trades such as electrician, carpentry, or culinary arts through an affiliation with the U.S. Department of Labor. Casner-Lotto also reports that little is known about the quality of these programs, and the partnerships between education and labor are often tenuous.

Similarly, little information exists about the newer school-to-work model of youth apprenticeship, particularly at the postsecondary level. In an October 1993 report, Corson and Silverberg described evaluation results of 15 school-to-work transition/youth apprenticeship demonstration programs funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. They indicate that "none of the sites had any experience in implementing the postsecondary components of the program" (p. xi). Although not yet evident in practice, secondary-to-postsecondary articulation has been viewed as an essential part of youth apprenticeship programs. In a survey involving all states that have passed youth apprenticeship legislation, Smith (1994) found that a common feature is articulation of curriculum to the postsecondary level. He reports, "[S]tate legislation proposed flexibility on the part of both secondary and postsecondary educational systems to accommodate alternative paths to technical and professional competence" (p. 211).

Kazis and Roche (1991) suggest that youth apprenticeships can be a logical extension of the Tech Prep model where integrated vocational-technical and academic curriculum is delivered through two years of high school education articulated with two years of college. Although Tech Prep was not defined as a work-based learning model in the study conducted by Bragg et al. (1995), it was examined as a potential component of such programs. Findings from this study show that few existing two-year college work-based learning programs utilized Tech Prep or established formal articulation agreements with secondary schools. This finding is corroborated by earlier results of a study by Bragg, Layton, and Hammons (1994), which shows that during the 1992-1993 school year only about one-third of the nation's Tech Prep consortia were incorporating work-based learning into curriculum reform at either the secondary or postsecondary levels.

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act

In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the School-to-Work Opportunities (STWO) Act. A primary objective of this federal bill is to assist youth and young adults to transition to work. The school-to-work goals are to be closely integrated with the objectives of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, a federal bill passed earlier in 1994. Among other purposes, the Goals 2000 Act calls for the creation of content and performance standards intended to raise the quality of education for all students. Both the STWO and Goals 2000 legislation promote educational reforms designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning for all students, but particularly for the noncollege bound. The STWO and Goals 2000 legislation help to move broad-based educational reforms to the mainstream of the nation's educational agenda. Grants to begin developing and implementing local and state school-to-work systems have been awarded jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor since 1994.

No one model is endorsed by the STWO legislation; however, several work-based learning models are described as promising such as the career academy, co-op, and youth apprenticeship. Tech Prep is also mentioned as a model that local schools and colleges could implement with STWO Act funding. No matter which model is utilized, the STWO Act specifies that relationships should be strengthened between the following entities: (1) vocational and academic education, (2) educators and employers (i.e., school and work), and (3) secondary and postsecondary education. A work-based learning component, school-based learning component, and connecting activities that connect the school and workplace are essential to any school-to-work system funded under this new federal legislation. Successful completion of a school-to-work program should result in a high school diploma, a certificate, or a degree from a postsecondary institution, and/or an occupational skill certificate that should be a portable, industry-recognized credential certifying competency and mastery of specific occupational skills.

Three components form the foundation of the federal STWO bill. First, the school-based learning component requires the integration of vocational and academic education, career exploration and counseling, instruction in a particular career area, selection of a career major by grade 11, and periodic evaluations linked to the challenging academic standards specified in the Goals 2000 Act. In addition, the school-based learning component endorses articulation of curriculum between secondary and postsecondary education. In addition, the completion of some type of academic credential (i.e., certificate or degree) is highly encouraged. This requirement is similar to the postsecondary component of the 2+2 Tech Prep core curriculum.

The work-based learning component involves paid or unpaid work experience, workplace mentoring, and instruction in general workplace competencies as well as in all aspects of the industry. Students should acquire competencies to progress to higher-level skills consistent with the demands of a particular occupation. By obtaining this type of instruction, students are expected to be better prepared for advancement in a career.

Finally, the school-to-work connecting component is designed to ease the transition from in-school to out-of-school learning. Connecting activities should help to ensure students are well matched with employers' work-based learning opportunities. This component is designed to ensure that the school-to-work linkages create a systemic approach. It can be carried out by employers, faculty, counselors, parents, students, administrators, and any others participating in the school-to-work experiences. Examples of connecting activities are support services such as career counseling starting in the early grades, staff development, technical assistance, and job placement. Another connecting activity is a follow-up evaluation of graduates to determine the extent to which intended outcomes have been attained and to encourage student placement in positive workplace learning experiences.

Postsecondary Work-Based Learning and the STWO Act

Little research exists to explain how various existing work-based learning models fit with the school-based learning, work-based learning, and connecting activities components central to the federal STWO Act, particularly at the postsecondary level. A survey conducted by Bragg et al. (1995) and a more recent synthesis of the literature by U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1995) are the only studies known to address this issue directly. For example, Bragg et al. (1995) show that several of the existing work-based learning models provide such elements as coordinated classroom and workplace learning, the integration of occupational-technical and academic curriculum, and periodic evaluation of student progress. Both studies point out limitations that are present in existing work-based learning models relative to STWO legislation. Bragg et al. (1995) found that few of the models uniformly incorporate such components as training and credentialing of workplace mentors, inservice of college faculty and staff in work-based learning concepts, and incentives for business. Also, recruitment of targeted student groups and job placement, both elements recommended by the STWO Act, are lacking. These results suggest that most if not all of the existing work-based learning models should be modified and/or enhanced to meet the legislated expectations of the STWO Act.

Bragg et al. (1995) also investigated who has primary responsibility for various work-based learning elements (see Table 1). Is the primary responsibility that of the colleges, employers, or other agencies? Or is it shared? In relation to health programs, nearly every element was the primary responsibility of the two-year college, including selecting, instructing, mentoring, assessing, and certifying students. Similarly, colleges were responsible for a majority of elements of non-health work-based learning, although more sharing of responsibility occurred with employers, specifically in supervising and evaluating students, determining wage rates, providing certification of mastery, providing mentor training and credentialing, and offering student insurance/liability. For either health or non-health, the primary responsibility for delivery of instruction was the college, giving employers the primary responsibility for providing the workplace setting itself. Administration and delivery of the learning process is the primary responsibility of two-year colleges rather than employers or other agencies. This finding shows some shifting of responsibility should occur if new school-to-work programs are to be based on an equal partnership between colleges and employers.

To summarize, the federal STWO Act and other legislation passed in several states (Smith, 1994) shows a heightened public interest in work-based learning as both an economic and pedagogical intervention. Although much of the focus has been on youth, recent research documents the widespread use of work-based learning at the two-year college level. The clinical-professional model and cooperative education (co-op) are examples of approaches that are predominant at the postsecondary level; and benefits have been documented for students who have participated in these approaches. Other models such as formal adult apprenticeships are sometimes used; however, these programs are typically small and their quality is not well-documented. School-based enterprises and youth apprenticeships are not very evident at the postsecondary level at all. Little is known about how the various work-based learning models are implemented at the postsecondary level. What is known is that two-year colleges seem to have a preponderance of responsibility for delivering work-based learning as compared to employers or other organizations. Yet, details about how these programs operate is not available at a time when public policy suggests a greater investment should be made in work-based learning at both the secondary and postsecondary levels.

Table 1
Location of Primary Responsibility for Selected STWO Act Components

Primary Responsibility for School-to-Work Opportunities (STWO) Act ComponentsCollegeWork-
Delivery of instruction is the responsibility of ...x


Student selection is the responsibility of ... x


Supervision of students is the responsibility of ... x

Evaluation of students is the responsibility of ... x

Student wage rates are determined by ...

Certification of mastery is the responsibility of ... x

Mentor training and credentialing is the responsibility of ... *

Instructor/student ratios are determined by ...*


Length of training is determined by ... x


Student insurance/liability is the responsibility of ... x


x The majority of responses fell into one category.
* A percentage of responses were nearly equally shared among two or more categories.

NCRVE Home | Full-Text Documents | Contents | Next Section | Work-Based Learning Database
NCRVE Home | Site Search | Product Search