February 20, 2014
In previous columns celebrating CTE Month, Secretary Duncan and Assistant Secretary Dann-Messier have stressed the importance of a vibrant career and technical education system to the well-being of our students (of all ages), our economy, and our nation. I want to build on their remarks by looking at the importance of the connections between business and industry and our education system.
This topic is increasingly highlighted as the economic recovery progresses. According to the Jan. 28, 2014, news release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national jobless rate dropped to 6.7 percent in December. Moreover, many analysts predict brighter economic prospects for 2014. The Conference Board projects that, for 2014, GDP will be up, consumer spending will be up, housing starts will be up, and capital spending will be up—all above 2013 levels. This is good news for our economy and for our workers.
Even so, too many workers remain unemployed or underemployed, or have given up looking for work altogether. At the same time, there are jobs that are going unfilled. This is where the expertise of the community and technical colleges comes in. We know that effective partnerships between businesses and industries and their local colleges can help build the local economy and fill the skills gap. Such partnerships take a variety of forms. These include donations of equipment and machinery to colleges for the purposes of training, provision of input on curricula, opportunities for faculty to update industry-based knowledge and skills, work-based training that enables students to earn and learn, paid internships, registered apprenticeships, and similar opportunities. There are people who know a lot more about this than I do; however, over the years I have noticed some common threads.
Successful partners have learned to trust each other. The employers give accurate and timely information on their skill needs, and the colleges respond with training programs and initiatives in a timeframe and with a level of quality that meet industry requests. The linkage between an employer and a college that fosters that trust can take many forms, such as industry advisory committees, regional or sector-based skills panels, involvement of a local Workforce Investment Board (WIB), or the use of specialized software. It may start with the president of the college reaching out to an employer or vice versa. Or a WIB may bring people to the same table.
Successful partners have found ways to bridge the language of business and the language of education. How do the skills workers need every day on the job translate into a set of competencies and a curriculum at a college? What can companies that hire a largely immigrant workforce learn from ESL faculty who utilize integrated basic education models? How is the need for remedial or developmental education related to the skills gap? Strong partners understand each other's institutional cultures and how to deploy their complementary strengths in mutually beneficial and effective ways. Successful partnerships between business and industry and education are also clear about what they are trying to accomplish together, even if they might have different ways of stating their goals. The key is that each partner knows what the objectives are.
Here is just one of the many examples of successful partnerships between businesses and community and technical colleges that are happening across the country. Vigor Industrial is a large employer in the maritime sector in the Pacific Northwest. It faced a shortage of skilled workers, particularly welders to refurbish the large, local fishing fleet. Through discussions with the Port of Seattle, the local maritime business community, and the local community college, a new partnership was formed between Vigor and the Seattle Community College's South Seattle campus. Vigor and the state of Washington contributed to the construction of a new training facility, and the college now provides the instruction there. Now, more trained welders are graduating, bridging the skills gap, and moving on to new and better futures. There are a lot of other great examples of successful partnerships in our country.
Thanks for all you do to provide opportunities for our students, strengthen our local workforce, support our business partners and grow our local economies.
The U.S. Census Bureau recently released Measuring Alternative Educational Credentials: 2012, which reports that, as of fall 2012, more than 50 million U.S. adults (about 25 percent of the adult population) had received a professional certification, license, or educational certificate that was not a degree awarded by a college or university. Of the awardees, some 34 million had a professional certification or license, 7 million had an educational certificate, and 12 million had received both a professional certification or license and an educational certificate.
These alternative credentials covered a wide variety of content areas, including business, cosmetology, culinary arts, education, finance, management, and nursing. According to this first Census Bureau report ever about alternative educational credentials, they generally led to higher median monthly earnings for people with less than a bachelor’s degree, ranging from $4,167 for those with only a professional certification or license to $3,433 for those with only an educational certificate, and $3,920 for someone with both types of credentials. People without an alternative credential earned only $3,110, by comparison. There was little difference reported for people who had earned at least a bachelor’s degree, whether they added an alternative certificate or not.
The bureau also reported that professional certifications and licenses were more common at the level of an associate degree or higher, and especially so for people with master's and professional degrees.
The study found 11.2 million adults who had at most a high school diploma and also held a professional certification or license. If such an alternative credential were the hallmark of a revised measure of educational levels, almost 5 percent of the adult population would move into a higher (i.e., more than high school) education category.
The study also determined that almost three-quarters of recent or current jobs required professional certifications and licenses. Further, some 30 percent of adults who worked during the previous four months held an alternative credential, compared to 16 percent of unemployed adults and 13 percent of adults not in the labor force.
The data included in the report were collected between September and December 2012 using the Survey of Income and Program Participation.
In Unlocking the Gate: What We Know About Improving Developmental Education, Elizabeth Zachry Rutschow and Emily Schneider of MDRC provide a critical review of the research literature on developmental education (DE). The authors argue that much of the research in developmental education practice is based on descriptive studies or correlational analyses of an overlapping group of community college programs. They also believe that some of the relationships that were found, while interesting, are not causal and, therefore, do not provide hard evidence of what improves outcomes for students in developmental education. The paper then identifies studies that have the rigorous designs—such as random assignment or quasi-experimental studies—that control for any measurable differences in the treatment and comparison groups. The authors provide an extended discussion of their rationale for this focus and organize the studies into four different types of interventions.
- Strategies that help students improve their academic skills prior to entering college so that they can avoid developmental education classes, such as early college assessment in 11th grade and dual enrollment, and that show some evidence of effectiveness;
- Programs that accelerate students through developmental education by redesigning how it is organized and taught, such as mainstream programs that allow students to enroll in an academic course and provide extra educational support during the semester;
- Approaches that contextualize instruction, integrating a credit-bearing college course with basic skills instruction, such as Washington state’s I-BEST program, which links the vocational content with specific developmental education; and
- Programs that provide supplemental supports to advance students’ achievement, such as individualized tutoring and supplemental instruction.
The research reviewed suggests that the second and third strategies have the most rigorous evidence of effectiveness. Because students are not all the same, the traditional developmental education step and sequence may not meet the needs of many students. Rather than taking a full sequence of developmental education courses, programs of the second type of intervention deconstruct the curriculum into small modules that support or match the needs of students in their specific college courses. The third type of intervention, contextualized developmental education, can also link formerly abstract academic skills to specific content. As a result, students see the relevance of the academic skills they are acquiring to what they are learning in a workforce development program. The authors note, however, that while there was some evidence of effectiveness from the more rigorous studies, even these interventions had only modest impacts.
Beyond the four types of interventions, the authors point to other activities that could affect developmental education—both instruction and assessment. Most developmental education courses are taught by part-time, adjunct faculty. Few of them have specific training in developmental education. Also, few have the opportunity to participate in sponsored professional development to improve their work with students participating in developmental education. The authors point out that for some of these interventions to work, the part-time instructors need to be folded into the design and execution of the DE strategy. As for assessment, students are often referred to developmental education based on their performance on a single assessment. The authors suggest that such high-stakes tests should provide diagnostic information about the relative weaknesses that would allow for a more focused approach to remediation.
Finally, there is a short discussion about areas of potential benefit in developmental education. These include improving the alignment between secondary and postsecondary education, and the use of technology, and transforming developmental and college-level curricula and practice. The authors note that all three of these topics have not been studied rigorously. They suggest that because of the “alarmingly low success rates for developmental students,” educators and policy makers need to consider and thoroughly evaluate DE programs and seek out more innovative ways of addressing the needs of academically underprepared students.