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Careers 101: occupational education in community colleges.

One day, a high school sophomore was walking down the street and came to a signpost. One sign said, "Short Road." Tacked to it was a notice warning of delays and detours ahead. Another sign said, "Interstate 4." The Interstate led to some interesting places, people said, but you had to drive pretty far before you got to them. The third sign said, "Community Highway." It also went to some interesting places and had connections with the Interstate further down the road, according to a map in a nearby gas station. The student thought things over for a long time and then said, "That first road doesn't look like it will get me anywhere. And that second one is kind of long. But the third one is just right."

In some ways, today's educational programs to prepare people for employment are similar to the three roads in the fable above. The actual situation is more complicated, of course, with back roads, detours, short cuts (that turn out to take longer), and many other paths leading to almost any career. But still, the occupationis open to people often depend on the education they have received.

Jobs That Require Education After

High School

Millions of jobs can be entered by high school graduates who have no additional training. Many of these jobs, however, hold out very little opportunity for advancement. Other jobs require at least 4 years of education after high school. Only about 25 percent of all high school graduates, however, complete college within 5 years after receiving their diploma. But a third kind of occupation offering many jobs--challenging jobs, jobs with a future--also exists. These are occupations that require 1 or 2 years of additional education after high school, the type of education provided by the Nation's 1,400 community colleges and other 2-year institutions.

As long ago as 1964, the National Advisory Committee on the Junior College noted that "the 2-year college offers unparalleled promise for expanding educational opportunity through the provision of comprehensive programs embracing job training. . . ." Such a promise may never be completely fulfilled, but the expansion of occupational programs in community colleges shows that they continue to make job training an important part of their mission.

The need for the kind of training provided in community colleges has been growing recently. During the past couple of decades, this country has produced more than enough college graduates for the jobs available. It is likely to continue to do so, according to projections of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The situation for jobs that require education and training in a community college is less clear. These occupations have been growing rapidly and several are expected to be among the fastest growing between now and 2000. The schools are ready to provide the training, but will they have the students? "The important shortfall that may materialize is the lack of individuals with the education needed to qualify for the necessary postsecondary education or training," according to Ronald Kutscher, the head of the BLS Office of Employment Projections.

These occupations include nursing and other health disciplines, technical specialties such as electronics technician, and administrative fields such as bookkeeping. Additional occupations are listed in tables 1 and 2, pages 21 and 22. And many other smaller fields can be learned about by contacting community colleges in your area.

In occupations such as these, pay is often closer to that of jobs requiring a degree from a 4-year college than to jbs that require no training. For example, inhalation therapists and radiologic technicians--who usually enter these occupations with an associate's degree--and the average college graduate have similar starting salaries. Frequently, these occupations also offer better prospects for advancement than do occupations that require no training. The major attraction of these jobs, however, is the nature of the work. They combine the need to keep abreast of a complex body of information and solve difficult problems with hands-on tasks that provide the satisfaction of seeing the results of one's work. This is a combination especially appealing to young people who enjoy a mental challenge but like to see the immediate relevance of what they learn.

The diversity of occupations that can be entered by people who have education after high school other than a college degree is reflected in the diversity of programs offered by community colleges. The accompanying chart, "At Least 4,000 Associate Degrees Were Awarded in These Fields in 1987," page 19, shows some of the more common fields. The chart does not reveal the great variety of programs available, however.

Colleges as Diverse as Their


High school students who explore community colleges will quickly learn that no two schools are alike. With so many community colleges, each trying to tailor its programs to the needs of the local area, the only standard is variety. For example, Santa Fe Community College in Florida has a program in zoo animal technology. Maryland's community colleges offer dental assisting, early childhood development, human services assistant, chemical technology, construction inspection, aviation maintenance, electrodiagnostic technology, and medical laboratory technology. Michigan students can choose from a wide variety of programs related to manufacturing technology. One indication of the diversity of these schools is the accompanying description of programs that won the Secretary of Education's Award for Outstanding Vocational-Technical Education Programs in 1990.

You might think of a community college as a transportation hub. People from all sorts of backgrounds enter the hub, make various connections, and then move on.

Many students use the college to connect them with a 4-year college. Most community colleges have agreements with at least a few 4-year schools in their State or region. These agreements detail the courses that a student should take in order to be accepted as a transfer student in a particular major. A student who successfully completes the course of study in the 2-year school is guaranteed admission into the 4-year school. Following such a course of action is much more likely to lead to success than would taking a bunch of courses and then applying to a 4-year school. Local community colleges can give you pamphlets or booklets that detail exactly what you will need to do to qualify as a transfer student.

But community colleges are far more than way stations on the road to a 4-year degree. They also offer a wide choice to a student who wishes to pursue occupational education. A student could simply take some adult education courses. More wisely, a person could earn a certificate or an associate's degree in an occupation-related subject. (Certificates can be earned in 1 year or less, while associate's degrees usually require 2 years of full-time study.)

Even for a single occupation, more than one choice may be available. For example, one school offers both a diploma and a certificate program in air-conditioning and refrigeration, and the certificate program can be pursued either full time in 3 semesters or in the evening for 6 semesters. Similarly the school offers both a certificate program for medical laboratory assistants and a longer program leading to an Associate in Applied Science Degree for medical laboratory technician. Programs like these may be the same for the first year but than diverge, with the degree program requiring more specialized courses.

Yet another option available in some fields at some schools is cooperative education. Students in these programs alternate time in the classroom with time in the workplace. See "Cooperative Education: Working Towards Your Future," in the fall 1988 issue of the OOQ for more information about co-oping.

Community colleges have moved in several directions in order to meet the need for trained workers. In cooperation with local employers, they have developed programs to upgrade the skills of people already working. They have reached out to middle school and high school students with summer institutes and classroom enrichment programs. And, perhaps most important, they have developed the Tech Prep Associate Degree (TPAD).

TPAD, or 2 + 2 = More

For many years, community colleges have offered credit or advanced standing to students for the vocational courses they took in high school, just as 2- and 4-year colleges grant credit to students with high enough scores in Advanced Placement Tests. Programs developed over the past few years go far beyond this, however. In these programs, referred to as Tech Prep or TPAD, high school students take classes especially designed to prepare them for further study of a technical subject at a community college, just as a high school student in a college prep curriculum takes a specific courses. These and similar programs are said to be articulated; that is, they are joined together although each school is responsible for certain components. As a For Foundation study notes, these programs most often combine high school courses that give student the academic skills they will need with community college courses that provide technical and occupational content. For example, a high school senior might be required to take Principles of Technology, Applied Biology, or similar courses. Although the high schools concentrate on academic work, students in some programs occasionally work with college teachers or carry out projects in college facilities. Less frequently, the high school courses may include vocational courses.

Programs also differ in that some prepare for a specific occupation and others for a group of related occupations. Some programs are relatively general at the high school level, so that the high school student need not choose an occupational program as a junior. Others are more specialized. And a program may look specialized because of the number of courses it requires but actually be aimed at producing a generalist. For example, Thomas Nelson Community College, in Hampton, Virginia, offers a TPAD that requires high school students to look toward their future as early as their freshman year, so they will have all the mathematics couses they need; but holders of the degree are electromechanical technicians who are equally skilled in electronics and mechanical engineering technology.

Tech Prep and other articulated programs have grown greatly recently in both kind and number of students served. In California, articulated programs have been developed for automotive specialties, office administration, drafting, electronics, accounting, general business education, computer/information systems, foods, machine shop/tools, secretarial science, welding, word processing, and early childhood education/child care. One community college in California had a thousand high school students enrolled in its articulated programs.

The growth of Thomas Nelson's master technician program shows that high school students respond favorably to the challenge of the TPAD. When the program started in 1985, only 1 of the 13 high schools served offered Principles of Technology, one of the high school courses required. Now all but one of them do. "This is a response to increased awareness of the opportunities available and increased demand by high school students," according to Cecil Phillips, an associated professor at Thomas Nelson.

Programs such as these benefit students by decreasing the amount of material they must go over twice, once in each school. This saves both time and money. Students are also better motivated in such programs because they see where their education is leading them. The potential of these programs is indicated by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act of 1990, which is the Federal Government's basic law for this field. According to Piers Bateman, Vice President for External Relations of the Center for Occupational Research and Development, it is filled with language encouraging the development of these programs--language that is backed up with the authorization to spend $125 million. The U.S. Department of Education notes that the law establishes Tech Prep as a separate program leading to a 2-year associate degree of 2-year certificate. The Department sees Tech Prep as giving students a strong foundation in liberal arts and basic academics as well as intense technical preparation. See the following article, "The Role of Technical Education," for a further discussion of some benefits of these and similar programs.

What if TPAD's Not an Option?

Tech Prep programs are strongly recommended. But they are not available everywhere, not by a long shot. Even where they are, a particular high school student might not be able to take advantage of them. The relative disregard for students who would benefit from such programs caused Dale Parnell to title his book about them The Neglected Majority. What can a high school student do in such a situation?

"Learn the local waters." That good advice for fishing also applies to information about occupational training. Local information is especially important for occupations that require more training after high school but less than a college degree. Therefore, the guidance office is the first place to visit for a high school student interested in these occupations. But it should not be the last, especially if the student attends a school that focuses primarily on 4-year colleges. The next place to visit is the local library. Information is also available through the counseling departments of the community colleges in the area.

Dr. James Jacobs, Director of the Industrial Technology Institute-Michigan Community College Liaison Office, has several suggestions for high school students who cannot enter a TPAD or similar program: "In high school, develop your employability skills--responsibility, completing assignments, attending classes, learning to communication and work well with others, and learning to think. Also, look for summer work that is related to the occupation you want to be trained for. And make use of any cooperative work/education program that your high school offers."

Students should also make sure that the community college will meet their needs. These colleges are usually less expensive and often more convenient than a 4-year school, allowing the student to save the cost of room and board. But the community college might not offer all the extracurricular activities of a 4-year college or university. Long-range goals must also be considered. For example, registered nurses who have an associate's degree may not be considered for some jobs, especially supervisory ones. Still, for many high school students, the path to the future is through the community college.

These 10 programs received the Secretary of Education's Award for Outstanding Vocational-Technical Education Programs from the U.S. Department of Education in 1990. The programs were judged on factors such as the following:

* The integration of the vocational curriculum with a quality academic program.

* The use of objective standards to measure students' competency and evaluate process in attaining basic skills and training.

* Cooperation with secondary and postsecondary schools.

* Placement of graduates in jobs.

* Replicability.

They show the great variety of programs available in the Nation's community colleges.

Region 1

Greater Lowell Regional Vocational Technical School Tyngsboro, Mass. Contact: F. Nelson Burns (508) 454-5411

The program offers intensive occupation-specific retraining and placement services in computer, business, drafting, and electronics technologies. More than 90 percent of graduates have been placed in jobs with employers such as Wang and Honeywell.

Region 2

Bergen County Technical Schools District Hackensack, N.J. Contact: Leonard Margolis (201) 343-6000

The program is a cooperative effort among the school district, the Wakenfern Food and Shop-Rite Supermarkets, and Cornell University's Food Industry Training Program. Currently, 51 educationally disadvantaged students receive in-store and classroom training in five basic supermarket employment areas.

Region 3

Prince Georges Community College Largo, Md. Contact: Rosemary Swartwood (301) 322-0699

Entry-Level Police Officer Training Program initiated to meet the region's need for trained law enforcement officers. Graduates of the 17-week program must master 336 skills in areas such as criminal investigation and emergency care. The program is run in cooperation with the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission.

Region 4

Valencia Community College Orlando, Fla. Contact: Hugh Rogers (407) 299-5000

The college offers on-site computer technology training and places specialists in jobs requiring less than a bachelor's degree. Begun in 1987, the program will train more than 1,000 students in the 1990-91 school year. Martin-Marietta Corp. and Stromberg-Carlson are major partners in the program.

Region 5

Thief River Falls Technical College Thief River Falls, Minn. Contact: Orley Gunderson (218) 618-5424

The college's Aviation Maintenance Technology Program offers basic skills and training for new students as well as upgraded training for certified technicians. Internships are offered with Northwest Airlines.

Region 6

Kiamichi Area Vocational-Technical School McAlester, Okla. Contact: Rebecca Nichols (918) 426-0940

The school's child care program integrates basic skills training in reading, math, and science with child care skills. Private sector involvement was spurred by the need for child care providers. More than 65 percent of graduates are placed in the field, while 10 percent continue their education.

Region 7

Longview Community College Lee's Summit, Mo. Contact: Karen Kistner (815) 763-7777

The college's Automotive Technology program has cooperative partnerships with Ford, General Motors, and Toyota. Curriculum is updated regularly to keep pace with industry advances. The program boasts a 95-percent placement rate.

Region 8

Weber State College Ogden, Utah Contact: Jane Van Valkenburg (801) 626-6210

The college's Radiological Science Cluster Program focuses on four areas: Radiography, nuclear medicine, ultrasound, and radiation therapy. Fully accredited by the American Medical Association, the program serves 24 hospitals in Utah and surrounding areas.

Region 9

East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program West Covina, Calif. Contact: Myrna Craig-Evans (818) 960-1424

The Apparel and Accessories Program reinforces basic academic skills through hands-on learning experiences in store layout, merchandising, and marketing. Although the region has a 40-percent high school dropout rate, every student completing the 2-year program in 1988-89 was employed or continued in school.

Region 10

Spokane Community College Spokane, Wash. Contact: Wayne Elinger (509) 536-7148

One of only 15 fluid power technology programs in the country, it prepares students for work in four major areas: Machine maintenance, fabrication and installation, sales, and system designs. Fluid power is the combined use of hydraulics, pneumatics, and electronics in machinery and equipment. Job placement is nearly 100 percent.

Neil Baxter is the managing editor of the OOQ.
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Title Annotation:includes a statistical portrait of community colleges and list of award-winning programs
Author:Baxter, Neale
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1991
Previous Article:Stepping up to the bar.
Next Article:The role of technical education.

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