Crossing the Bridge: The Role of Lived Experiences in Shaping Noncredit Workforce Education Students' Educational Goals

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to explore the lived experiences of students enrolled in noncredit workforce education programs as preparation for ongoing education. Ten students enrolled in a noncredit welding class were interviewed and the interview transcripts were subjected to analytic induction. Notable findings indicate that students were greatly influenced by the expectations and support of their families and teachers. Findings also illustrate that students generally complete high school and that career and technical education programs are important to student success. Students primarily desire job skills and certification with credentials. Findings in this study will increase higher education leaders' knowledge of a vital and growing body of students within an important division of community colleges. Additional findings and implications are included.

Introduction

The community college has become a crossroads of learning, an educational waypoint for workforce training and retraining (Grubb & Lazerson, 2004; Jacobs & Voorhees, 2006). Individuals seeking employment-based education may transit a college's campus multiple times seeking a variety of outcomes (Grubb, Badway, & Bell, 2003; Jacobs & Voorhees, 2006). Such training most likely appeals to students' professional or financial motivations since studies have demonstrated that workforce training (Galasso, Ravallion, & Salvia, 2004) and college-employer workforce training collaborations (Hawley, Sommers, & Melendez, 2005) have beneficial effects on wages. While the professional and financial value of noncredit workforce education may be established, there remains the question of its academic worth in encouraging further education.

Background

As millions of students enroll in community colleges to obtain work-related knowledge (Jacobs & Dougherty, 2006), Grubb, Badway, and Bell (2003) observed that community colleges' noncredit workforce training may serve an important role by creating a bridge for unlikely and underserved students to higher educational pathways. The authors classified the current state of noncredit workforce education as training dead ends that "lead to nowhere" (p. 233). Thus, the best workforce service colleges could do for underserved, low-wage, low-skill, and nontraditional students would be to advance them toward degree-seeking status or outcomes that might lead to greater employment opportunities.

If Grubb et al. (2003) were correct in suggesting that lower-division schools should serve a precollege role in ushering low-wage or low-skilled workers into higher educational echelons, then it stands to reason that colleges that fully comprehend the abilities and desires of this population of potential students stand a greater chance of assisting and assimilating them. Included among these characteristics may be the students' desired training outcomes, future expectations, and confidence in their own learning efficacy (Norman & Hyland, 2003). However, despite the accessibility of community colleges to myriad students of all stations in life (Grubb et al., 2003), the relationship between outcomes from noncredit workforce education and that education's overall impact on students' lives does not seem to be well documented or understood (Bragg, 2002; Milam, 2005; Seybert, 2002; Van Noy, Jacobs, Korey, Bailey, & Hughes, 2008). Understanding these students may begin with understanding their motivation.

Norman and Hyland (2003) observed that a major component in student learning was the student's own disposition--including their sense of efficacy--toward education and learning. Thus, one possible starting point in understanding the educational aspirations of these noncredit students might be to explore how students' lived experiences shape their academic self-efficacy and expectations. Such an understanding might enable educators to fully comprehend how to better serve these students and offer more access to students in all walks of life. …