Community College and Secondary School Collaboration on Workforce Development and Education Reform

Article excerpt

Increased emphasis on workforce preparation for our nation's youth, particularly for midlevel and higher skill development, requires greater postsecondary educational preparation, expanding the role of community colleges in school reform and school-to-work transition system-building. Local, state, and federal reform initiatives have begun to directly and indirectly press community colleges and secondary schools to be more closely coordinated.

Most central are three federal policies-Tech Prep of the Vocational Education Act, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act (STWOA), and Goals 2000: Educate America Act. All three convey four priorities: (1) foster high academic standards and occupational skill development; (2) prepare students well for further education and occupational skill development; (3) support more integration between K-12 and postsecondary institutions; and (4) reform public education generally.

Drawing on site visits and interviews, this Brief examines how four community colleges are responding to these pressures and priorities. The four - one each from North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania-were selected from among state officials' recommendations about community colleges that were exemplary in Tech Prep, STWOA, and contract training. These colleges also reflect a range of population density in their counties and differ widely in their state support.

The Community Colleges

One college studied, located in central New Jersey, serves a diverse array of urban and rural communities. Although it has coordinated the county's Tech Prep initiative since 1991, it has never engaged more than 9 of the county's 20 school districts, and its Tech Prep initiative is primarily a series of components. The local high schools vary widely in how much they participate in Tech Prep and in their inclusion of any of these components, often limiting it to just vocational education or targeting high-risk students. The college participates in two STWOA partnerships but has a limited role in them.

Researchers also looked at a large, multi-campus, urban community college in Pennsylvania that serves one county with 43 school districts, ranging from rural to suburban, and one large urban district. It sees its mission as linking education and economic development, and broadly interprets its community service role. Although the state's school-to-work initiatives are uncoordinated and give priority to secondary school reform, this college has created well-defined 2+2 programs leading to associate degree programs in seven technical areas. Through Tech Prep, they have formed curriculum development teams (with business representatives) to create applied academic courses in math, science, and English. In addition, they have several projects with local school districts, primarily to improve student preparation and extend the college's community service function.

Another college studied was a large urban community college, with five campuses in two Florida counties. Shifting its mission to workforce and economic development, this college and its two partner school districts combined Tech Prep and STWOA to integrate the secondary schools and community colleges and prepare students for advanced technical jobs. Pooling their resources, the partners developed articulated and applied curricula and work based learning experiences. The Tech Prep and STWOA consortia have broad business and education representation and an elaborate subcommittee infrastructure to support the development of curriculum frameworks, staff development, and a career development program for middle school students. More than a fourth of the high school students are designated as Tech Prep, and more than half take Tech Prep courses.

Finally, researchers examined a college that serves a large region in rural North Carolina, including two small cities and one countywide school district. The college and the secondary school district collaborated to establish a K-14 educational continuum emphasizing high academic standards and technology. …