National Assessment of Vocational Education

Edging Toward Effectiveness: Examining Postsecondary Occupational Education


1I have been immeasurably helped in preparing this paper by a meeting of the NAVE Independent Advisory Panel on May 6 - 7, 1999; by a meeting with individuals at the American Association of Community Colleges, especially Jim McKenney, Kent Phillippe, and Margaret Rivera; by the participants' comments in a meeting held at the April 1999 AACC meetings by Rick Hernandez and Jon Weintraub of the U.S. Department of Education; by meetings with the board of the California Community College Association of Occupational Educators and subsequent discussions with occupational deans in both the San Francisco area and the Los Angeles area; and by discussions with Norena Badway of the Community College Cooperative, NCRVE; Jim Jacobs of Macomb Community College; Richard Fonte of Austin Community College; and David Goodwin and Elizabeth Warner of OUS.

2In this paper I won't get into the federal limitation of vocational education to education below the baccalaureate. This constraint prevents seeing vocational and professional education at the baccalaureate and graduate level as continuous with one another — even though the pedagogical and policy issues are quite similar, and the analysis of vocational (or professional) education in four-year college is as neglected as PSOE.

3 This is based on 1992 - 93 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey data; see Tuma (1993), Table 2.1.

4 See especially Section III.2, on the role of PSOE in the "new fluidity" that defines current postsecondary education and training.

5 I have summarized much of my own work, carried out largely with the support of the National Center for Research in Vocational Education, in Grubb (1996b). One has to go back to Harris and Grede (1977) to find a comprehensive volume on PSOE; most reviews of community colleges, like Cohen and Brawer (1989) or Dougherty (1994), devote relatively little attention to PSOE. See also the Journal of Studies in Technical Careers published by the National Commission on Occupational Education.

6Readers will doubtless remember that the eighth circle of hell is reserved for those committing sins of fraud, including false counselors. See Cantos 26 to 28 of Dante's Inferno, especially the wonderful translation by Pinsky (1994) illustrated by Michael Mazur.

7 I've been impressed with the extent to which policy in many countries is driven by narratives, or widely accepted and simple "stories" about why certain programs are worthwhile. The creation of such narratives typically takes a considerable period of time and many different participants; once widely accepted, policy narratives are resistant to change, and empirical evidence — the kinds of results that academics can generate — is not usually enough to modify or complicate a policy narrative. See, for example, Roe (1994).

8 See Grubb and Stasz (1998), Table 4.31, and the discussion of postsecondary integration on pp. 181 - 186. These figures might be accurate if each institution reporting integration practices has only one or two instances of it, but this is still misleading about the prevalence of integration practices. The postsecondary questionnaire was devised by me, using a typology of approaches to postsecondary integration first presented in Grubb and Kraskouskas (1992). My recommendation to complement questionnaire results with local case studies was not implemented, perhaps because of lack of funding.

9 As if! Most observers feel that these tax credits were merely vehicles for middle-class tax relief, in which case the rational issues I pose about the distribution of these funds are simply irrelevant.

10This is not uniformly true; several of the technical institutes in Wisconsin have started transfer programs, and some faculty there predicted that the higher-status academic role would begin to diminish the occupational programs.

11 In Minnesota technical institutes and community colleges were combined; in South Carolina technical institutes were converted into comprehensive community colleges; there are apparently some initiatives in Louisiana to convert a welter of technical institutes into a more coherent system of comprehensive community colleges.

12 On the ineffectiveness of short-term job training programs, see Grubb (1996a).

13 For fuller development of these five criteria, see Grubb (1999a), Grubb and Ryan (1999), or Grubb et al. (1999). It's surprising to see how different such lists of principles can be; for a very different set of principles, focusing on how students feel (e.g., "each young person needs to feel that at least one adult has a strong stake and interest in his or her labor market success"), see Walker (1997).

14 The source of my nastiest statements include Grubb and Associates (1999), especially Ch. 5 on teaching in remedial/developmental classes; and Grubb and Kalman (1994).

15 WIA requires states to complete state plans between April 1, 1999, and April 1, 2000, with all states implementing WIA by July 1, 2000. Quite apart from the fact that many states may be late with their plans, this means that the year 2000 - 2001 will be the first year of full implementation of WIA, and we can anticipate that this will be a year of transition and confusion. But this is the second and final year of NAVE's data collection, so that NAVE at best will be able to learn about plans in progress.

16The technique of community case studies underlies the NCRVE research reported in Grubb and McDonnell (1991 or 1995), for example.

17Even the receipt of an associate's degree or certificate may be ambiguous. In California, some colleges require students to apply for these credentials, while others grant them automatically when a student has accumulated sufficient credits. Rates of completion are obviously higher in the latter institutions.

18 In my own interviews with students, reported briefly in Grubb (1996b, Ch. 2), it became clear that many students who reported wanting to transfer had no idea about what that might mean. These were effectively "experimenters" who reported transfer as their intention because of the limitations of forced-choice questionnaires.

19 For example, Richard Fonte, the president of Austin Community College, has suggested that Austin, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, might be appropriate test cases because they have been so substantially affected by IGCs in the information technology and computing areas, and because they are in relatively bounded labor markets.

20 The only effort I know to examine IGCs and IGSs is the listing of such efforts in Wills and Lurie (1993), but this does not go beyond the attempt to describe the various industry groups that have taken this approach.

21 Note that the baccalaureate degree may also be subject to the "new fluidity"; see Smith (1993) on the damage the practice of taking courses in multiple institutions causes to general education. However, the baccalaureate degree remains a sturdy image of how to provide students with extensive choice of colleges, majors, and specific general education requirements within an institutional structure of requirements, electives, and progression through four years or so.

22 A now-dated effort to do this was undertaken for the NAVE in the late eighties, together with a section on the options for federal legislation; see Grubb and Stern (1999).

23 To put the issue in different terms, the process of creating broad policy narratives is complex and not necessarily rational. See the comments in footnote 7.

24 In the interviews with students reported in Grubb (1996b, Ch. 2) I tried to collect such school and work histories, with mixed success; students don't remember well those activities that have had little importance for them. I also tried to put together such a history of activities with the NLS72 data, which has a great deal of information both about employment and education over time. However, missing data made this virtually impossible, and I despair of using any national data set for this purpose. An alternative would be to replicate for postsecondary students the Sloan Study of Youth and Social Development, first reported in Schneider and Stevenson (1999), which followed students from sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades over a five-year period.

25 The allowance of "all aspects of the industry" is part of developing a broader conception of occupational education and should be included here.

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