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Toward a community career system program evaluation framework.

This article is reprinted with permission from: Journal of Counselling and Development, Winter 2001, Volume 79, published by the American Counselling Association.

Herr (1995, 1996, 1997) has repeatedly criticized incoherent and inconsistent educational and workforce development policies in the United States. He stated that this inconsistency has led to career counseling and development services that fail to meet the life span employment needs of all citizens. National workforce development policies have been described as subject "to the whims of political and social agenda" (Herr, 1995, p. 264) and blown either on or off course by unpredictable changes in jobs and fortunes of political appointees and talented public servants (Barton, 1994). Chaote (1984) described how federal employment policies were primarily aimed at only 8% to 10% of our citizenry (i.e., those with the most severe impediments to meaningful employment). Barton chronicled federal policy from 1960 to 1990 that focused on growing national concern over the transition-to-work needs of high school students. He described such policies as "an odyssey of some promising beginnings that did not, for the most part, continue" (p. 11).

Herr (1995) noted that the lack of an omnibus piece of legislation to clarify and integrate career counseling services has led to the current situation in which the administration of and funding for career guidance services are diluted and fragmented across many federal and state agencies. Hoyt (1994) has suggested that the failure of career development services to become an integral piece of each school's educational mission results in large part from federal policies and initiatives that, in essence, are not connected to current national educational reform movements. It is not surprising that, in this milieu, many school counselors and administrators have demonstrated a lack of familiarity with and commitment to national workforce preparation policies (Bloch, 1996).

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 (STWOA) attempted to fill this legislative and workforce education policy vacuum by providing funding for states to assume the challenge of creating local partnerships capable of meeting students' transition-to-career needs. A major intent of the STWOA was to provide both the financial support and general program structure (e.g., school- and work-based learning, and connecting activities) necessary for initiating systemic reform of educational and employment practices that impede progress toward the development of effective school-to-work (STW) community career systems (Herr, 1995). Ideally, school-to-work partnerships attempt to forge lasting relations among critical stakeholders (e.g., parents, community leaders, business, trade unions, and schools) to create sustainable career opportunity systems (Hamilton & Hamilton, 1998). As stakeholders help to design systems, partnerships can be tailored to the unique needs of highly diverse local communities.

True community-wide partnerships offered the United States an optimal, potentially sustainable interface between business and education. When asked by the authors of this article (as part of a series of focus groups evaluating initial statewide implementation of local community career partnerships) to describe student outcomes promoted by their community career system, a coordinator of an urban partnership provided an eighth-grade social studies class's monetary policy project as an example. As part of the integration of this class within the school-to-career partnership, the coordinator arranged structured student visits to the nearby Federal Reserve Bank. The STW coordinator stated the following in reference to this visit:
 When those students went into that bank and
 were treated so well, they were treated so professionally
 and so adult, that I saw in those
 students an attitude change because many of
 our students, while they won't tell you directly,
 they feel lost and hopeless. They feel that
 college is something out of their reach. No
 one in their family has a college education and
 it is out of their reach and they don't even
 know what job possibilities exist for them.
 They know their block, their foursquare block.
 But as these students toured the bank and
 began to realize that this is something they
 could do for a living, I could see hope opening
 up on their faces.

Thus, although much is possible as a result of coherent and effective community career systems, the "sunsetting" date of the STWOA approaches rapidly. After this legislation expires, we will once again be without a comprehensive legislative and policy framework to continue such promising initiatives.

Federal, state, and local policymakers and school personnel need empirically supported arguments to advocate passage of legislation and the issuance of policy directives to initiate and sustain funding for effective workforce education programs (Herr, 1969, 1995, 1996, 1997). Unfortunately, research evaluating workforce education program effectiveness generally has not provided this data. For example, promising results were obtained from initial evaluations of career education programs (Hoyt, 1981) conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Magnum, 1998). However, these efforts were cut short when the National Institute of Education stopped funding for the support and evaluation of these programs in the early 1980s (Barton, 1994). Future legislators, policymakers, and school personnel were then deprived of what could have become one of the cornerstones of a sound knowledge base for meeting the career guidance and counseling needs of all students.

In such ambiguous and changing social and political contexts, how can the counseling field provide sustained input and lasting leadership for national career development policies and legislation? One potentially useful strategy would be to develop and implement a mutually agreed-upon evaluation framework that would assist both local community career system partnerships and policymakers in identifying and implementing effective programs and systemwide strategies. Currently, school personnel and local partners are often isolated and left on their own to design and execute program evaluation activities. Furthermore, no overarching evaluation framework exists to encourage cooperative data collection activities across partnerships or states. By working together to construct such a framework, counselors can provide direction to program development and policymaking processes that take unexpected twists and turns and withstand disruptive political rhetoric. In this manner, counselors can make a major contribution in helping community career system partnerships to more effectively meet the post-high school transition needs of all students.

This article presents a theoretical framework to guide community career system program evaluation activities. This evaluation framework is intended to be comprehensive in scope to provide assistance to all school and community programs that are attempting to improve career development outcomes for students. Three necessary components of this model are discussed: (a) a comprehensive career development model for students K-16, (b) a framework for identifying post-high school outcomes for all students, and (c) a program evaluation strategy to address the diverse needs of local communities. In doing this, we hope to initiate a discussion among counselors, career development theorists, and policymakers that eventually would lead to a common evaluation model. Such a framework could link counselors, researchers, and policymakers in sustained, collaborative pursuit of those practices and policies that could shape future legislative initiatives and assist practitioners. Now is an opportune time for the counseling field to debate these critical issues and provide needed national leadership for the twenty-first century.


Community career systems require a theory of career development for students K-16 that is both measurable and responsive to the concerns of parents, educators, business, trade unions, and community leaders. These stakeholders want students who can capitalize on an array of educational and training opportunities without being prematurely tracked into narrowed job paths. Such goals are consistent with the tenets of vocational self-concept theory (e.g., Super, 1954). Career development theorists have been very concerned with the problem of premature narrowing of educational and vocational options, and the making of unwanted occupational compromises in adolescence and early adulthood (e.g., Ginzberg, Ginsburg, Axelrad, & Herma, 1951; Gottfredson, 1981; Lapan & Jingeleski, 1992). These issues are critically salient when designing community career systems that remove barriers and open access for all students, regardless of limitations related to demographics, geography, socioeconomic level, or disability/health status. An effective community career system evaluation model highlights the career development needs of all students, not merely those who will enter the workforce immediately after high school or attend 2- and 4-year colleges.

Blustein, Phillips, Jobin-Davis, Finkelberg, and Roarke (1997) stressed the importance of self-exploration and self-understanding for promoting adaptive post-high school transitions. These researchers found that students who made successful school-to-work transitions were more purposeful, active, and assertive in coping with the rapid series of challenges that confronted them in late adolescence and early adulthood. Individuals who made more successful transitions to the world of work were bolstered both emotionally and instrumentally by significant others. In addition, students who experienced more adaptive transitions to work were more likely to have had school counselors play an active role in their career development process (Blustein et al., 1997).

Figure 1 presents a career development model to guide program design and evaluation activities for community career systems. A major purpose of this model is to explain how an individual's emerging vocational self-understanding and orientation to the world of work crystallizes within the interwoven structure of demographic, social, economic, and political contexts. Heidegger (1962) described how human understanding performs the unique function of "throwing forward" (Entwurf) before an individual possible ways of being in the world. Because of this, Heidegger argued, self-awareness and some measure of control over our lives become possible.


Career development programs should be designed to help adolescents earn a special kind of understanding of themselves in relation to the world of work. This understanding of self is optimally characterized by the following: (a) growth in purpose and direction, (b) perceived opportunities and choice, (c) personal agency and empowerment, (d) perseverance and an ability to overcome obstacles, (e) commitment and maturity, and (f) motivation and hope. Numerous career development theorists have identified these qualities as essential for facilitating positive vocational outcomes (e.g., Astin, 1984; Betz & Hackett, 1987; Blustein et al., 1997; Farmer & Associates, 1997; Fassinger, 1985; Hoyt, 1998; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994; Richardson, 1998). Because of the priority placed on promoting this type of vocational self-understanding, programs offered by community career system partnerships are necessarily in direct opposition to barriers that prematurely limit vocational aspirations and force unnecessary compromises in occupational decisions (Gottfredson & Lapan, 1997).

As illustrated in Figure 1, six primary constructs can be identified that promote either growth or constriction in this kind of vocational self-understanding: academic achievement, self-efficacy and attribution theory, choice goals and choice actions, work readiness behaviors and social skills, job-self compatibility judgments, and vocational interests. Following are brief discussions describing each construct in relation to community career systems. The relationships among constructs, their connection to vocational self-understanding, and their interface with surrounding demographic, social, economic, and political contexts are then discussed. Two concepts have been adopted from phenomenological philosophy (i.e., substrate-determinant relations, and the "life world") for use in describing relations between constructs and how each construct is linked to surrounding social contexts.

Career Development Constructs

Academic achievement. A comprehensive evaluation model must place enhancement of academic achievement in a primary position and produce extensive data both to guide program planning activities and to answer critics who contend that time spent on such efforts actually hurts student achievement. To date, some limited evidence is available that supports the notion that K-12 career development activities have a positive impact on academic achievement (see for reviews, Baker & Taylor, 1998; Evans & Burck, 1992). Thus, community career systems have yet before them the task of clearly demonstrating that time and effort spent in such activities lead to measurable increases in students' current learning levels and future potential to learn. Academic achievement is best understood within a comprehensive framework that includes activities such as problem solving, classroom performance, work-based performance, standardized test scores, and vocational skill development as promoted in both secondary and postsecondary vocational technical education.

As stated earlier, Hoyt (1994) has argued that widely varying school-to-career transition programs result, in large part, from the fact that local and federal initiatives are not integrated into critical national educational reform movements. Hoyt suggested that inconsistent program implementation has contributed to the current situation wherein career development services have not been fully adopted as a primary mission of schools. Demonstrating a clear connection between academic achievement and relevant school- and work-based learning would place career transition services at the center of current educational reform efforts.

One example of how partnership programs could be connected to critical national educational reform efforts can be drawn from mathematics education. Over the past several years, the National Science Foundation has spent considerable time and funds to develop innovative middle school mathematics curricula that meet standards established by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (1995). These curricula emphasize the learning of mathematical constructs through activities consistent with school- and work-based learning experiences. For example, Math Thematics (Billstein & Williamson, 1998) includes an extended exploration activity, in each unit throughout the school year, that requires students to solve interesting "real world" problems using all of the mathematical tools they have been studying. Even a casual review of these curriculum materials reveals their consistency with the STWOA, the hopes and intents of earlier career education reform efforts (Hoyt, 1981), and the immediate goals of local community career system partnerships.

Self-efficacy and attribution theory. Self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1997, 1986; Betz & Hackett, 1981) was introduced into vocational psychology as a potentially unifying framework around which a more adequate theory of women's career development could be constructed. Extensive subsequent research has suggested that across age and diversity of backgrounds, self-referent expectations play a critical role in the career development process for both women and men. Within this framework, Lent et al. (1994) articulated a coherent and empirically testable social-cognitive theory that addresses many of the goals and concerns of community career systems. This model is grounded in learning theory and emphasizes the dynamic interaction between the developing individual and surrounding social contexts. Lent et al. hypothesized that enhancing efficacy and outcome expectations increases the probability that an individual will act in more assertive, proactive, and "agentic" ways (Betz & Hackett, 1987), thus facilitating more desired vocational outcomes. In addition, efficacy and outcome expectations provide a framework within which findings from academic self-concept research (e.g., Pajaras & Miller, 1994) can be accounted for and integrated into both career theory and intervention strategies used by community career systems.

Successful community career system partnerships should have a positive effect on an individual's perceived ability to master critical educational and vocational tasks (i.e., self-efficacy expectations) and their beliefs that desired outcomes are likely to result from pursuing a given course of action (i.e., outcome expectations). Bandura (1986) argued that efficacy and outcome expectations are shaped by four specific sources of learning (i.e., performance accomplishments, vicarious learning, social persuasion, and physiological reactions). Community career system partnerships present students with learning opportunities within each of these four domains. For example, work-based learning experiences that provide students the opportunity to successfully perform within an occupational niche foster enhanced perceptions of competence in being able to master tasks relevant for success in that specific situation. Furthermore, work-site mentoring experiences can expose students to effective adult role models in real-world work situations. Such an experience may strengthen an individual's outcome expectation that success in such a desired future is both realistic and likely if certain performance objectives are met. The Lent et al. (1994) framework provides community career systems with a learning theory to guide program development and evaluation.

Bandura (1977) recognized that the "corrective value" of competent performance on lowered efficacy expectations could be attenuated by attribution processes used by the individual (Weiner, 1972). Bandura asserted that the impact of information available to the individual from the four primary sources of efficacy information varies, depending on the specific attribution processes used by the individual. For example, when summarizing a decade of research, Eccles (1994) concluded that when parents act as "expectancy socializers" they might distort their children's perceptions of competence across both academic and nonacademic domains. Distorted self-perceptions can result in young women underestimating their abilities even in the face of prior successful performance accomplishments in those activities. By reinforcing certain attribution errors, parents may inadvertently limit their child's domain specific efficacy expectations despite prior competent performance by the child and positive teacher feedback (Jacobs & Eccles, 1992). Community career systems should design interventions that promote the development of internal and stable attribution processes (Luzzo & Jenkins-Smith, 1998; Weiner, 1972). If such processes do develop, students may then more fully benefit from academic and school-to-career learning experiences.

Choice goals and choice actions. The Lent et al. (1994) model posits that vocational interests emerge from the joint impact of efficacy and outcome expectations. Interests then motivate the formation of initial career "choice goals" (i.e., intentions to explore certain options, tentative career planning activities, and rudimentary aspirations to follow a certain career path). These choice goals shape and promote certain "choice actions" (e.g., searches for jobs and appropriate postsecondary educational and training options, job and school applications, or choosing a specific college major or vocational technical specialty area). In the Lent et al. model, choice goals and choice actions perform a significant function in shaping career decision making, the extent to which students will persevere in "staying the course" to reach their objectives, and the eventual level of performance attainment in chosen career directions.

Community career systems must intentionally engage students in meaningful school and work-based learning experiences that lead to the development of career goals that are influential in motivating subsequent vocational behavior. Such goals need to be clear and specific, challenging but attainable, close in time to behaviors that must be performed, and linked to actions over which an individual has some voluntary control (Ajzen, 1988; Bandura, 1986; Locke & Latham, 1990). Given their vital role in vocational self-concept development, a primary focus of community career systems should be to assist students with developing and implementing choice goals and choice actions.

Work readiness behaviors and social skills. There has been growing awareness that preparation for successful participation in the workforce requires the development and appropriate use of a range of interpersonal skills (Bloch, 1996). For example, the Job Training Partnership Act (1982) addressed the following necessary work behaviors: maintaining regular attendance, being punctual, demonstrating positive attitudes and behaviors, completing tasks effectively, having appropriate grooming and hygiene, and exhibiting good interpersonal relations. The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS, 1991) also identified basic social skills that enhance employability. The SCANS report suggested that before entering the workforce students should be able to work successfully with others in teams, demonstrate responsibility and self-management, be sociable, have self-esteem and integrity, and be honest. Furthermore, future workers should be able to demonstrate leadership, teach others new skills, work effectively with customers, negotiate, and cope with diversity. In addition, workers need to be able to follow directions, work effectively with or without supervision, show initiative, be dependable, and get along with coworkers and supervisors (Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 1992). There is national recognition that all workers need to appropriately use these fundamental work-readiness behaviors and social skills to be successful. Community career system partnerships are required to assume the challenging task of ensuring that all students have adequate opportunities to learn, master, and then demonstrate such social skills.

Job-self compatibility judgments. Job-self compatibility judgments highlight the active matching process by which an individual attempts to achieve congruence (Holland, 1985) between self-understanding and occupational decisions. To maximize person-environment fit, students need to explore and consider relevant criteria that should be taken into account when making an educational or career decision. Gaff (1998) suggested the term career-related aspects to describe all relevant variables individuals could use to achieve a better fit with chosen educational and career environments. Students need to clearly understand how their abilities and talents, work values, personality, preferred work conditions and work tasks, and desired training levels connect to possible educational and career futures (Gaff, 1998; Gaff, Garty & Fassa, 1996).

Vocational interests. Whether conceptualized as a function of efficacy and outcome expectations (Lent et al., 1994) or embedded within a broader view of personality (Holland, 1985), interests occupy a central place in career development theory. For most of this century, Strong's (1943) seminal research on measurable differences in interests across individuals employed in diverse occupations has shaped the way in which career assessment, counseling, and placement are conceptualized and conducted. The importance of finding employment in a career path where one's interests can be expressed comes from many different sources. For example, Farmer and Associates (1997) asked women who chose to enter science careers what advice they would give female high school students. In this study, researchers identified a major theme that centered on choosing a career for its enjoyment and interest value as opposed to a career's perceived popularity or guaranteed good salary. Community career systems should provide career assessment, counseling, and learning experiences, all of which nurture and expand vocational interests for all students.

In Gottfredson's (1981) model, such job-self compatibility judgments play a central role in defining the range of occupational alternatives an individual finds acceptable. Within the proposed evaluation model, job-self compatibility judgments are considered important conduits through which individual differences (e.g., personality, IQ, and work values) and social factors (e.g. sex-typed employment patterns and occupational prestige hierarchies) work to shape, constrict, or expand an individual's perceived range of occupational opportunities (Astin, 1984; Gottfredson & Lapan, 1997). Thus, effective community career systems will provide students with experiences and information that expand the range of occupational matches perceived as acceptable, desirable, and possible.

Substrate-Determinant Relations

Currently, many federally funded local STW partnerships describe career development processes in linear sequences that follow the chronological ages of students. For example, career awareness, exploration, and planning activities are each targeted toward discrete grade ranges (e.g., career awareness in K-6, career exploration in Grades 7-10, and career planning in Grades 11 and 12). However, the model of career development presented in Figure 1 outlines a "gestalt-like" structure that is as operative for the 7-year-old as it is for the 17-year-old. It is a reciprocally deterministic system (Bandura, 1986) embedded (Blustein & Nourmair, 1996) within layers of social context in which influence to one component reverberates throughout the whole. AS integral links in a single continuous process, we suggest that career awareness, exploration, and planning activities do not occur independently from each other or only at discrete ages or grade levels. For a student in a K-16 setting, each construct is fully implicit in every vocationally relevant act performed by that individual.

Husserl (1948) argued that an object is apprehended through its substrate-determinant relations:
 Through the entire process the S (object)
 retains the character of theme; and while, step
 by step, we gain possession of the moments,
 the parts, one after the other and each one of
 them is precisely a moment or part, i.e., what
 is generally called a property or determination-each
 is nothing in itself but something of
 the object S, coming from it and in it. In the
 apprehension of the properties we come to
 know it, and we come to know the properties
 only as belonging to it. In the development,
 the indeterminate theme S turns into the substrate
 of the properties which emerge, and
 they themselves are constituted in it as its
 determinations. (pp. 113-114)

In describing the six critical aspects of a distinct type of emerging vocational self-understanding (e.g., one that is characterized by purpose, perceived opportunities, agency, perseverance, commitment, and hope), it is clear that each of the six constructs (described earlier and listed in Figure 1) is inextricably linked together. Each moment provides a unique perspective on the whole that proves both informative and yet ultimately incomplete without recognition of the others. For example, when trying to understand the role of interests, the investigator may be drawn toward awareness of its relation to and dependence on job-self compatibility judgments, efficacy expectations, or any of the other determinant constructs.

The structure described here is conceptualized as a fully interacting system. Bandura (1986) argued that psychological functioning occurs within the reciprocally interacting framework of behavioral, environmental, and cognitive influences. The Lent et al. (1994) model provides for a feedback loop wherein successes and failures of one's performance attainments can result in changes to efficacy and outcome expectations. However, one needs to take this a step further and understand that each moment (i.e., the six constructs of vocational self-understanding) can promote change or rigidity in any part of the whole.

For example, interests can be a cause of enhanced or lowered efficacy expectations, not merely an effect as suggested by the Lent et al. model. Inherent interests could lead an adolescent to explore and then participate in (i.e., choice goals and choice actions) a specific work-based learning experience. Heightened interest combined with a real world opportunity could encourage this person to be both more compliant in exhibiting appropriate on-the-job social skills and more attentive and diligent in related academic work. The higher levels of academic achievement that may result (e.g., improved grades) could serve as a stimulus for the individual to reconsider efficacy and outcome expectations as well as related attributions. Throughout this process, changes in job-self compatibility judgments could be occurring as the individual struggles to achieve some congruence between emerging occupational options and evolving self-understanding.

The relatedness between the six constructs creates the necessary conditions for the possibility that one can experience a certain kind of self in relation to the world of work (Kant, 1783/1950). The adolescent described earlier may begin to see before her or him the possibility of choice, direction, control, a willingness to strive to overcome obstacles, a sense of an adult-like maturity toward work, and motivation to pursue a desired future. However, this is only possible because of the interplay between the six related constructs.

The Life-World

Blustein and Noumair (1996) suggested the concept of "embeddedness" to understand how economic, political, and social forces influence self and identity development within a model of career counseling. The notion of embeddedness has a rich history in both phenomenological philosophy (e.g., Husserl, 1948) and related sociological work (Berger & Luckmann, 1967, Schutz, 1970). Central to this idea is the assertion that all human experience is embedded within the "life-world" (Lebenswelt). Husserl defined the life-world as the "world in which we are already living and which furnishes the ground for all cognitive performance" (p. 41). The life-world shapes and defines a horizon of possibilities, highlighting some while removing others. For example, by the middle school years, both boys and girls have come to share a common understanding of the sex-typed employment patterns and occupational prestige hierarchy inherent in the world of work in the United States (Gottfredson & Lapan, 1997). Children begin to understand these dimensions through the interlocking social contexts (e.g., television media portrayals, parental role models, and socioeconomic class) within which they have been embedded from birth. In this sense, vocational self-concept development occurs on a stage that is structured and managed to a large extent by this contextual background.

Figure 1 was developed with the benefit of career development (e.g., Astin, 1984; Farmer & Associates, 1997; Gottfredson, 1981; Holland, 1985; Lent et al., 1994) and sociological (Wilson, 1996) research that has identified major demographic, social, economic, and political contexts that create the horizons within which vocational self-understanding emerges. Such background contexts increase or decrease the likelihood that an individual will develop an orientation to the world of work characterized, for example, by choice and hope through affecting the six determinant moments of vocational self-understanding (i.e., the six constructs described earlier and listed in Figure 1). (Due to space limitations only one example is used to illustrate this interconnectivity.)

Wilson (1996) described the role of the interaction between racial segregation and critical economic changes (i.e., the loss of manufacturing jobs that paid well while requiring little formal education) in exacerbating problems of joblessness for poor, inner-city residents. Within the resulting context of damaged social organizations for inner-city communities (e.g., the ability of adults to exert social control in their neighborhoods and achieve common goals), Wilson argued that a connection between joblessness and lowered self-efficacy strengthened over time. Furthermore, lowered expectations of being able to achieve desired vocational outcomes (i.e., outcome expectations) emerged within the structural context of weak labor force attachment (i.e., unstable work, joblessness, and low income). Outcome expectations for individuals were negatively influenced as communities transmitted collective beliefs to infants, children, and adolescents (e.g., that there are impenetrable restrictions on vocational futures and a lack of real opportunity).

In this case, the role of a community career system is clear. An effective community career system must provide the supports necessary to encourage the maximal development of the six integral parts (i.e., the six constructs described earlier and outlined in Figure 1) of adaptive vocational self-understanding. When larger economic and social factors unwittingly conspire to weaken the development of more adaptive orientations to the world of work, community career systems must create new scaffolds that support individuals as they reach toward valued futures.

Post-High School Outcomes

An agreed-on framework that identifies measurement strategies for assessing post-high school career outcomes is not currently available to guide research and policy discussions at the local, state, and federal levels. There seems to be no consensus on the question of what is a successful school-to-career transition (Worthington & Juntunen, 1997). Identified outcomes should be important to society at large and amenable to the influence of community career systems. Without such a framework, local programs will not have a clear vision of the kinds of events and situations they are trying to help students master. For example, Blustein et al. (1997) called on career researchers to better understand the primary role that initial job contexts play in adaptive transitions. Without such information, community career program developers are limited in their ability to tailor interventions to help students grapple with specific challenges and hurdles posed by such contexts. Similarly, evaluation efforts are disrupted if program coordinators are unsure about constructs requiring assessment and available measurement strategies that could assist them in collecting such data.

As evaluators begin to identify outcomes that can be enhanced by community career systems, it is very important to fully recognize, at the outset, that a delicate balance needs to be struck between exuberant expectations and practical constraints. That is to say, the major thrust needs to be centered on identifying those "best practices" (School-to-Work Benchmarking Institute, 1998) that contribute to the amelioration of critical societal problems. These difficulties (e.g., enhancing the economic mobility of economically disadvantaged students or increasing underrepresented groups' participation in math, science, and technology careers) are not easily resolved. A range of issues (e.g., inadequate funding or student time on task) can and will dilute the strength of interventions offered by local partnerships. Potentially, interventions may be highly effective, but, because of how they are implemented or the level of student participation, outcomes may not be attained. The issue of assessing the extent and quality of student participation in transition services is addressed in the next section of this article. What follows is an extension and elaboration of critical vocational outcomes that numerous career theorists (e.g., Blustein et al., 1997; Feij, Whitely, Peiro, & Taris, 1995; Hoyt, 1998; Killeen, 1996; Richardson, 1998) have suggested should be targeted by transition programs.

The Appendix presents a framework for post-high school outcomes organized around three major themes: benefits to students, benefits to employers, and benefits to the community. Life career development theory provides a basis to begin conceptualizing the range of benefits that accrue to students who more substantively and successfully participate in community career system programs (Gysbers, Heppner, & Johnston, 1998). A major goal of local partnerships is to affect the wide array of adult roles eventually to be fulfilled by the adolescent (e.g., the roles of learner, worker, and citizen) within appropriate social settings (e.g., school, work, and the community). We offer these outcomes as a beginning to a more extensive discussion that would come to an agreement regarding those critical factors that community career systems should positively affect.

Within this model, we hypothesize that students who more fully and substantively participate in community career system programs will have better records of academic achievement and be more likely to successfully pursue post-high school educational and training options than will comparable peers who do not participate in such career development services. These students will be more likely to obtain a job with career track potential in a growth industry, be employed in high skill/high wage jobs, and make more successful adaptive responses to initial career challenges and barriers. These workers will demonstrate to employers more effective work-related behaviors and social skills (e.g., the ability to work as a collaborative team member and problem solver). Employers will express greater satisfaction with the prior training and preparedness of students who more fully participate in community career system programs.

These young adults will more successfully assume age appropriate citizenship roles (e.g., voter) and be a positive force within their neighborhoods and peer groups. Communities will also benefit financially (e.g., from increased tax revenues). Community career system students will be more likely to express greater satisfaction with their lives. They will be more likely to experience work as a positive, organizing theme that infuses meaning into their lives. These individuals will show greater congruence between job choices, interests, goals, abilities, and values. They will be better able to both identify and respond to emerging opportunities. These adults will exhibit greater social-emotional well-being and be empowered to bring about desired outcomes. The Appendix provides a detailed description of these possible outcomes.

We are keenly aware that these outcomes are difficult to attain. However, true community-wide partnerships must not shy away from the challenge of empowering young people to make such successful transitions to adult life roles. Evaluation efforts should focus on identifying and improving those practices and policies that can be empirically linked to enhancing such outcomes for all students.


Figure 2 provides an outline to guide formative and summative evaluation practices to be undertaken by community career systems. Formative evaluation procedures entail "snapshots" of the emerging patterns of vocational self-understanding across a K-16 timeline. Summative evaluation would measure the specific outcomes presented in the Appendix and their relation to vocational self-concept development. However, if community career systems are to engage in comprehensive program evaluation activities, four fundamental issues must be addressed. First, an assessment of the extent to which each local partnership is implementing a common framework of program elements targeted by all community career systems must occur. Second, a longitudinal sampling strategy matching student cohorts that vary along a continuum of participation in common element activities needs to be initiated and sustained for each local partnership. Third, as previously described, a taxonomy for identifying and measuring post-high school outcomes should be established and continually refined. Fourth, data analytic strategies are required that can integrate these three issues and answer a diverse set of a priori hypotheses across many local partnerships.


Assessing the extent to which program elements are in place has been described as a critical step in evaluating school counseling programs (Gysbers, Hughey, Starr, & Lapan, 1992). This important notion is adopted for the model proposed in this article. Furthermore, we suggest that a discussion of the critical common elements, which would be implemented in an ideal community career system, should start with the 12 components that are either explicitly or implicitly outlined in the STWOA. These 12 common elements are listed at the bottom of Figure 1 as school-to-career development opportunities and support systems.

Community career systems would first be evaluated on the extent to which they are implementing these 12 common program elements. This assessment would involve both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Quantitative analyses would rank each program along a continuum of implementation for each common element. Data based on questionnaires and structured interviews would be gathered from a diverse group of stakeholders within each program and aggregated to yield a single quantitative measure of the extent to which each element is in place in that program. Qualitative analyses would more fully describe individualized strategies used to implement each common element. These qualitative efforts would be invaluable in identifying the critical features of those career development strategies that effectively promote enhanced student outcomes.

In many states, school personnel are now required to conduct follow-up investigations to assess outcomes of graduates. The evaluation model presented in this article may provide the means to address such state and federal accountability mandates. It is also imperative that data collection strategies do not unintentionally place one school district in opposition to another. This situation might be avoided by focusing attention on the extent to which common elements are in place and devising a sampling strategy wherein one school does not serve as a control or comparison for another.

Figure 2 also shows how Hierarchical Linear Modeling procedures (HLM; Bryk & Raudenbush, 1992) can be used to answer many of the quantitative research questions that community career systems must address if they are to demonstrate program effectiveness and accountability. Identifying programs and practices that effectively promote academic achievement and career development outcomes requires simultaneous assessment of the different social contexts and structures that affect students. Students come from very different family backgrounds. They participate in curricula and function in classrooms, school buildings, and districts that differ on important dimensions (e.g., socioeconomic level, enrollment size, ethnicity/racial composition of the student body, and dollars spent per student in each district). HLM was developed and has been used in program evaluation research to deal with such methodological complexities (Arnold, 1992). For example, using a data analytic framework similar to the one presented in Figure 2, Lapan, Gysbers and Sun (1997) found that (across more than 200 high schools and 22,000 students) those high school students who attended schools with more fully implemented comprehensive guidance programs (Gysbers & Henderson, 2000) were more likely to report that their education was better in providing them more career and college information.

In our proposed evaluation framework, HLM can be used to predict both formative and summative outcomes for students in two ways. First, after removing the effects of factors that allow some schools an advantage in promoting student outcomes (e.g., the ability to spend more money per student), we hypothesize that those local partnerships that have more fully implemented the 12 common program elements will promote enhanced vocational self-understanding during the K-12 years and better outcomes for students as they transition to post-high school options. Second, we hypothesize that between-school differences in the extent of implementation of common program elements would significantly influence the relationship between formative and summative student outcomes and student characteristics. For example, consider the situation in which state policymakers want to know whether, either positively or negatively, school-based learning programs that more fully integrate academic learning and career path planning affect mathematics achievement test scores for high school sophomores on mandated state tests. Furthermore, school counselors, aware that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds tend to score lower on these tests, may desire to know if such school-based curricula assist lower income students to narrow test score gaps.

In reference to the aforementioned scenarios, an HLM model may detect that more fully integrated school-based learning programs are associated with higher mathematics achievement scores, a statistically significant weakening of the relationship between student socioeconomic status and mathematics achievement, and a significant increase in test scores as students more fully participate in such integrative curricula. In other words, school-based programs that more fully integrate academic learning and career path planning may assist economically disadvantaged students to perform at rates similar to their financially advantaged peers. In addition, greater student participation in integrative school-based learning programs could be empirically connected to measurable gains in mathematics test scores.

If it can be shown that school-based learning programs that integrate career path planning help students to score higher on mathematics achievement tests, then connections to post-high school outcomes can be examined. Students who experience domain-specific success will develop more efficacious self-referent beliefs (Bandura, 1986). These individuals would be more likely to express this emerging self-understanding in vocational terms by pursuing related post-high school training in mathematics, science, and technology (Super, 1954). Such hypotheses are consistent with findings from prior research on the choice and entry into post-high school mathematics, science, and technology educational and vocational options (e.g., Farmer & Associates, 1997; Lapan, Shaughnessy, & Boggs, 1996). When combined with complementary qualitative data, results from such HLM procedures would enable evaluators to estimate the magnitude of these gains and place counselors in a key position to both inform and influence policy.


The lack of coherent state and federal policies to meet the life span career development needs of all citizens is a fundamental problem facing the United States (Herr, 1995). The critical role counseling and guidance services play in helping students make successful transitions to post-high school opportunities has been continually acknowledged (e.g., Princeton Conference, 1968). We suggest that the counseling profession should expand its involvement and assume a more direct leadership in shaping federal, state, and local workforce development policies. Development and implement of a common evaluation research framework could link counselor efforts across the country and become a definitive source of reliable empirical data for generating future public policy. Counselors would be in the forefront, helping to solve a critical national problem.

We suggest that school counselors, career development researchers, university educators who train school counselors, and national professional counselor organizations work together to create the kind of network that would sustain research activity in the face of shifting political trends and professional life spans of individual researchers. Constructing an evaluation framework model would make joint research projects and nationally coordinated political action strategies feasible. Counseling associations could collaboratively facilitate the creation of a national research center to provide leadership in this process. Researchers, counseling practitioners, and policymakers could secure funding for collaborative research activities. Federal funding sources and private foundations look for impact and long-term sustainability of efforts after funding ends. A national network led by practicing counselors, researchers, and national counseling organizations would be attractive and competitive in securing funding for ongoing program development and research.

This article represents a beginning phase in the development of a community career system program evaluation framework. Much work remains to be done in identifying methods for measuring model variables and integrating additional salient career development constructs. This is a challenging task that will only be accomplished by the combined efforts of many collaborators. The counseling field is in a position to embrace this challenge and provide leadership for the twenty-first century. This is a highly ambiguous task to undertake because it is one that will present counselors with problems for which answers are not immediately apparent. However, together, counselors will make steady progress. The costs for not responding in a consistent, coherent, and committed manner are unacceptable.


Possible Benefits for Students, Employers, and the Community


A. Higher academic achievement in high school as evidenced by grades and test scores, lower dropout and better graduation rates, more rigorous courses passed and vocational skills attained, better attendance and fewer disciplinary problems, and greater liking of and perceived relevance for high school and post-high school education and training options.

B. Greater pursuit of and success within a wide variety of postsecondary training and educational options (e.g., entry into 2- and 4-year colleges, formal apprenticeships, and training schools).


A. Early career achievements as a Worker.

1. Getting, keeping, and advancing in stable, better paying quality jobs that are more likely to have health, childcare, and retirement benefits. These workers are more motivated and committed to participating in the workforce, doing well on their jobs, and becoming a valuable asset to their employers. Such individuals express greater satisfaction with their work, keep their jobs for longer periods of time, and have greater expectations for continuing in related career directions in the future. Successful integration of work and family demands is evident. These young workers have the necessary skills for entry-level jobs in specific businesses and industries. They have a greater ability to obtain a job in an area where they have participated in or completed a training program.

2. Students who more substantively and successfully participate in community career system programs will be more likely to obtain a job with career track potential in a growth industry. These individuals will be more likely to be employed in jobs and career paths rated by the Department of Labor as having greater demand in the future. These workers will have a greater sense of agency and efficacy for identifying and pursuing longer-range career strategies. They will have a better idea of where they have to go, of how to get there, and will have the support of others and self-confidence to pursue their goals. They receive better performance appraisals from supervisors and salary increases.

3. Community career system participants will more effectively make the transition from "floundering" to stable employment with a promising future. They will be more likely to have begun designing and implementing a longer-range career development strategy. Sequences of job changes will display movement toward a coherent direction versus a random job "hopping" and switching pattern to immediately available jobs. More realistic assessments will be made of the time needed to reach goals, salary levels, and desired jobs. These individuals will be better able to deal more effectively with unemployment (e.g., reduced time between jobs, greater efficiency in getting a new job, feeling less discouraged, and finding a greater match between a new job and a desired career path). Patterns of job changes will demonstrate progression within broad career paths and fields. Job changes will be more likely to lead to increased salary, promotions, enhanced prestige, leadership and decision-making responsibilities. The motivation for changing jobs will be more clearly related to growth and directedness within broad career paths.

4. These workers are more likely to be employed in high skill/high wage jobs and in nontraditional fields (e.g., women in math and science-related careers, men in nursing). Greater equality of participation will be evident across occupational fields regardless of possible demographic, socioeconomic, geographic, or disability/health status barriers. These individuals will have greater access to the economic opportunity structure and be more likely to own and operate their own business.

5. These individuals will be more successful in making adaptive responses to initial career challenges and barriers. These workers will be better able to more successfully interact with both supervisors and coworkers, as well capitalize on opportunities for advancement. They will be more diligent in learning from their work experiences and strive to improve their job performances. They will more assertively approach difficult occupational decisions, explore options, and actively engage themselves in their work. They will be more aware of and plan to secure further education and training to develop skills that will maximize current and future employment opportunities. They will be more successful in negotiating their current job context in adaptive ways. These workers will be less likely to compromise preferred career options. They will have a clearer plan developed for their vocational futures that stems from an understanding of self and the world of work. These workers will be more successful in handling employer skepticism and distrust of younger workers. They will have more successfully dealt with the developmental challenges of late adolescence. Such individuals will be better able to cope with and adapt to the planned and unplanned vocational events (e.g., entry-level job, being laid off, handling their immediate job contexts) that will challenge them in early adulthood.

B. Advantages for Employers

1. Employers will express greater satisfaction with the basic competencies and foundational skills (e.g., SCAN Skills) for students who have had significant involvement in community career system programs. It will cost these employers less money to conduct on-the-job training for these workers. Employers will indicate that community career system students can be more effectively recruited, retained, and promoted. Employers will indicate that such workers have a stronger commitment to their organization; less absenteeism, fewer discipline problems and problems with alcohol and drug abuse; and both the employer and the employee want to maintain their relationship. Employers see former community career system students as being more flexible, eager, willing to learn new skills, able to solve problems, and generalize training to new areas, new challenges, and across different job boundaries.

Community Citizen

A. Students participating in community career systems will exhibit greater socioeconomic, residential, occupational, and geographic mobility. For example, students whose families are below poverty level will experience significant upward economic mobility.

B. These young adults will more positively interact within their peer groups and neighborhoods and show greater growth toward assuming more mature roles (e.g., voter, community participant and leader, spouse and parent). These young adults, who are more meaningfully employed, will be less likely to be "in trouble with the law."

C. Community career system students will have better established support systems that provide both emotionally responsive and instrumental assistance to them as they establish an independent residence, adult relationships, and a career. These support systems will help individuals locate, obtain, keep, and advance in good jobs. These support systems will help them gain greater access to formal and informal job-getting networks.

D. In addition to the benefits outlined earlier, communities will reap significant benefits in both finances and morale for investing in their local community career system. This will come in the form of such things as increased tax revenues collected, a better ability to attract employers because of the trained and talented local labor supply, and benefits to social organization accruing from a citizenry that is more positively moving toward desired futures.

Intrapersonal Well-Being

A. Satisfaction with one's life is enhanced. These young adults will be more likely to experience work as one of the positive organizing themes in their lives. It will be more likely that their work will provide some of the substance that promotes a positive sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. These individuals will be more likely to indicate that they are moving toward more valued and desired futures. They will have greater satisfaction with and commitment to longer-term participation in the career paths they are pursuing.

B. These young adults will be more likely to rate the career path they are following to be a good match between their interests, goals, abilities, and values.

C. For these individuals, job changes will more likely lead to greater perceived opportunities, personal satisfaction, and new directions that previously they might not have been fully aware of but are now taking full advantage of.

D. Individuals heading in more valued and positive vocational directions will experience greater social and emotional well-being. They will report fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, low selfesteem, hopelessness, and related psychiatric conditions. Fewer mental health services will be needed and lower incidence rates of alcohol and drug abuse will be reported.

E. Young adults who more fully participate in community career system programs will be more selfdirected in pursuing goals, more effective in negotiating within a variety of social contexts to secure needed resources, and better able to exercise power and some control over current circumstances and future directions.


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The authors thank Norman Gysbers, Bradley Jon Tucker, Roger Worthington, and Carol Anne Kardash as well as Missouri's Community Careers System State Management Team (Doug Sutton, Pam Spires, Robert Ruble, Donna Schulte, and Michelle Corcoran) for their help.

Richard To Lapan is an associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. E-mail: John F. Kosciulek was an associate professor in the Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and is now in the Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies at Michigan State University, East Lansing.
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Author:Kosciulek, John F.
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Date:Jun 1, 2003
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