M. COLLEEN CLANCY, J.D

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1 M. COLLEEN CLANCY, J.D To: Anne Keeney, Seattle Jobs Initiative Re: CONSIDERATIONS IN REDESIGNING BUSINESS SERVICE PATHWAYS Date: May 2, 2011 Introduction The Pathways to Career Project is an initiative to improve workforce training and education outcomes for low-income Seattle residents. The City of Seattle and the Seattle Community College District brought together workforce intermediaries, educators, policy experts and investors to identify key local industries with potential for job growth and, through collaboration, coordination and co-investment, to improve educational pathways in those industries. The industries identified by the group include business services, logistics and trade, healthcare, and manufacturing. This memorandum identifies opportunities and challenges in redesigning pathways in the business service sector. Specific Project Focus Local community colleges and workforce organizations have long collaborated on programs to help lowincome Seattle residents gain job skills. To the present, the primary focus of these programs has been on short term training; however a developing strategy is to improve the career prospects for residents by helping them earn certificates and degrees of at least one year in length. Early, and existing, efforts to achieve this aim led to specific cohort-based programs that use practices such as enhanced student support and streamlined curriculum to improve the program completion outcomes for students in the cohort. This type of strategy is known within workforce organizations as the work around because these programs exist outside of, and in addition to, the mainstream college programs that most students enter. The aim of the Pathways to Career Project is to move beyond this selective approach toward a systemwide approach that 1) includes educational programs built on research-validated practices that improve outcomes for all students and that 2) combines the efforts of the colleges and of community-based organizations to provide enhanced support to low-income students. The project anticipates not simply a parallel program that provides high-touch services for a discrete cohort of low-income individuals but a system-wide change in the way in which the business service programs are delivered by the colleges and supported by outside organizations and philanthropists. In the words of the current conversation, it would be a project at scale, with all the collaborators coordinating efforts to move low-income individuals to, and through, the college program and on to an entry-level job on a career pathway out of poverty. Existing Assets The Seattle Community College District is a key partner in the Pathways to Career Project. Each of the four colleges in the district has multiple programs that offer opportunities to acquire education and job skills in the business sector. This memorandum focuses on the district programs in office administration 1

2 and accounting. Each of these pathways includes a two-year degree, as well as multiple opportunities for short and long-term certificates. These district programs are augmented by at least two current efforts to expand business technology opportunities for low-income Seattle residents: 1) A project funded by SkillUp Washington to test an online training program with a common business technology core-curriculum to be delivered by the Seattle Community College District and Highline Community College. 2) Seattle Jobs Initiative s new, three-quarter Medical Business Information Technology training at South Seattle Community College, which includes an internship at several area hospitals and major medical providers. In addition to these assets, there are support services for students within, and outside, the colleges: 1) Each college provides a full range of services to students, including general advising, financial aid support, counseling and academic support. Many colleges also have grant-funded programs that provide additional support to low-income or otherwise disadvantaged students. 2) A number of community-based organizations employ education navigators and provide services to support low-income individuals earning college credentials, including Seattle Jobs Initiative, the Seattle-King County Workforce Development Council, Goodwill Industries, Seattle Education Access and YouthCare. Finally, there are community-based organizations that provide emergency assistance, job placement services and case management to low-income individuals. Student Demographics Demographic data on Washington State and Seattle District students describe the characteristics of the community college student population. Essential data include the following: Recruitment Pool: While 63% of Seattle adults (127,000) have a college credential, only 39% of Seattle adults with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level have reached this level. Age: The median age of district students is 28.8 years; only 11% of Washington community college students enroll directly from high school. Gender: 55% of district students are female. Racial/Ethnic Diversity: Slightly over 50% of district students are people of color. Fulltime/Part-time status: 60% of district students attend part-time (the general assumption is that students who attend college part-time have to work in addition to going to school). Financial Aid Status: 28% of the fulltime district students who are enrolled in aid-eligible programs receive financial aid. Educational Program: Between 54-64% of district students (depending upon the campus) are enrolled in either workforce or basic skills programs. The picture that emerges from these data is of a student population that has a high proportion of lowincome, older, working adults. Many of these students will be people of color. Most of them are attending college to upgrade their basic skills or learn a job skill. They attend college part-time. Many of them are women. 2

3 National research indicates that many, if not most, of these characteristics are correlated with low completion rates. These same characteristics are correlated in the research with low academic skills and a high need for remediation. Any program with a goal of improving completion rates for these students will have to be designed to take these characteristics into account. The essential question the work group will have to address is: How can this project improve the prospects for these students by offering them a coherent, linked system that includes specific strategies to mitigate the impact of these factors on retention and completion? Current Directions in Educational Reform Early efforts to improve community college outcomes focused on interventions to one or more separate elements of the student s college experience, on the assumption that an improvement at any point in the system would improve overall completion rates. Interventions that demonstrated success would then be considered best practices to be adapted by other colleges seeking to increase their rates of completion. There are emerging examples in research literature that demonstrate that this best practice approach has not gone far enough to increase overall college completion rates. The most dramatic of these is the recent 5-year report from Achieving the Dream, which examined the results of the 27 colleges in the initiative s first cohort and found that, despite five years of support, and multiple interventions, none of the colleges had been able to achieve a measurable increase in its completion rates. The deficiencies in the interventions were twofold: 1) The strategies were not particularly effective (or the effect did not continue beyond the duration of the strategy); and/or 2) The strategies did not reach a sufficiently large portion of the target population. The report also emphasized that the colleges efforts may have been diluted by the number of interventions each college attempted, particularly in light of the overall funding ($450,000 per college over five years). Current thinking among reform advocates has moved beyond the best practice approach to a systemic approach that emphasizes restructuring each element of the students college experience to develop a series of interventions that multiply the effect of the effort. There are a number of emerging proposals for this approach including: Completion by Design, from the Gates Foundation; Design recommendations made by Complete College America; Get With the Program: Accelerating Community College Students' Entry into and Completion of Programs of Study, Jenkins, 2011, Community College Research Center Each of these approaches promotes a comprehensive reassessment of the educational program, from entry through completion and, in the case of workforce programs, through job attainment. Key elements of these approaches are such practices as: Enhanced preparation and support for college entry and enrollment; Enhanced academic and case management support for program retention; Enhanced and/or intrusive advising; Reduced remediation; Compressed classroom time; 3

4 Time/place delivery alternatives, including online and hybrid options; Streamlined/compressed coursework; Block scheduling; Predictable annual scheduling; Reduced course choice; Embedded math and English; Enhanced peer support and engagement; and Portability of placement and credits with other colleges. Challenges in Redesigning Business Technology Pathways Community college business technology departments are unique among professional/technical programs in the degree to which they educate both business technology majors and large numbers of students who are enrolled in other programs but who take business technology courses to fulfill their own program requirements or to gain basic computer skills. This dual role presents challenges to both program design and to collection of student retention and completion data. The idealized program model emerging from current program design research is a discrete cohort of students who are formally accepted into a program, who enter college together and who take a simplified and directed course of study. The need for separate remediation of these students is reduced or eliminated by embedding contextualized math and English skills directly into the program coursework. Traditional course blocks are broken up and curriculum redesigned as an integrated course of study. Dedicated program support provides both advising and case management assistance. Measuring cohort outcomes is relatively straightforward because the cohort is made up of identifiable individuals who take classes together and whose progress can be tracked from entry through completion. Very little of this idealized model applies to an open enrollment program such as business technology. In particular, highly favored strategies such as cohort enrollment, block schedules and embedded remediation are particularly difficult to effect when large numbers of program majors and non-majors are sitting in the same classroom. Instead, these programs are currently characterized by: Informal processes for declaring a major, making business technology students hard to identify and to track; Undefined start dates for the program and recommended, rather than mandated, program sequences; Multiple sections of basic courses, allowing each student to make an individualized schedule; Broad scheduling ranges throughout the day; limited evening and online classes; Unpredictable scheduling practices that add sections when classes over-enroll and drop them when they under-enroll; Generalized curriculum, particularly in the introductory courses that draw large numbers of students from the general college population; A large variety of courses and electives to meet diverse student goals and interests; Infrequent offerings of higher level courses that enroll small numbers of students. High numbers of adjunct faculty to meet the demand for multiple sections. 1 1 This is a generalized description of business technology programs; any individual college, including those in the Seattle District, is likely to differ from this description in certain respects. 4

5 As a result of these characteristics, the cohort of business technology students may only emerge over time, as instructors and other students begin to notice the same faces from course to course. This emerging cohort is a fluid one, in which students have diverse quarterly schedules, enroll at different commitment levels from quarter to quarter, and leave college without a credential after acquiring sufficient skills in the program to obtain a job. These are less structured cohorts than the ones envisioned for limited enrollment programs, in which students begin in the same quarter, show up at the same time for class and take their classes in a specific (and guaranteed sequence) from quarter to quarter. The business technology cohort is a more difficult cohort to track and measure because it is a cohort of intent rather than a cohort of instruction. Any attempt to improve business technology completions will have to take these characteristics into account, either by creating separate tracks for business technology majors and the general student population, or by reinterpreting concepts such as cohort training, embedded remediation, and contextualized instruction to allow both business technology majors and non-majors to benefit from the basic computer courses. Challenges of Systemic Change One reason that best practice and work around solutions pre-dominate in college program improvement efforts, and in workforce/college collaborations, is that they are easier and less expensive to implement than full systemic change. The hope is that a particular practice, or a parallel program, will have a large enough impact to improve outcomes, without requiring the full investment of wholesale change. The reason that many educators, researchers and policy experts now favor systemic program redesign is because these limited solutions have not been effective enough to improve these overall outcomes. However, a systemic change of the magnitude discussed here is difficult and expensive to achieve. It would require the investment and involvement of a wide range of organizations and college staff committed to the goals of the project. In particular, this degree of systemic change would not be possible without the complete involvement of the administration, support services and, most critically, the faculty at the colleges in the district, and without considerable financial investment in those colleges to support the work of redesign. If actual changes to the business service educational programs are a goal of this project, it will be important to bring the department faculty into the process at the earliest point in the planning. Lists of theoretically sound program practices remain theoretical until they are brought to life by faculty, within the curricular, logistical and financial framework that surrounds an actual program. No two programs exist within identical frameworks, and even relatively established models, such as I-BEST, have to be adapted to fit the circumstances of the particular college and the particular department. Local employers, including those with representatives on the departmental advisory boards, will also be influential in adapting models to local circumstances. Actions to Produce Cumulative Change If the organizational, human and financial resources needed for systemic change are not available at the outset of this project, the work group will have to make strategic decisions on how to move forward. In this event, the group could take an initial step by supporting the adoption of select practices that have been found effective in improving student outcomes, and by linking this step to a long-term vision that would phase-in additional elements of systemic change as opportunities presented themselves. 5

6 This approach would require a careful review of research to ensure that the most effective practices are selected, as well as a realistic assessment of the degree of change that could be achieved in the initial stages of phased-in reform. The work of finding solutions that improve college outcomes is evolving and it is difficult to find conclusive research that supports particular practices. Among the more established interventions that the work group might consider initiating or supporting are the following: 1. Education Support Services at the Community Organization Level: A number of nonprofit organizations that support low-income students working on college credentials have demonstrated that this approach has merit. Organizations with a history of success include Seattle Education Access, which supports marginalized youth working on degrees that transfer to four-year colleges and Capital Idea, of Austin, Texas, which supports adults working on selected professional/technical credentials. Seattle Jobs Initiative has developed a model and resources for this approach. Disadvantages of the approach include the need for sustained operational funding for the programs and the relatively small number of students that they can serve. 2. Enhanced Support Services Within the College Colleges have long offered enhanced support programs, such as the federally-funded TRIO program, to improve outcomes for select target populations. These programs are usually grant-funded and exist only as long as the funding remains in place. Workforce offices within the college may also provide enhanced support services for students who come to the college through workforce referrals. Typically, these enhanced services are available only to students who are within the funding source s target population. 3. Cohort Programs That Provide Enhanced Support And Streamlined Programming Locally, SkillUp Washington and its community college partners are actively working with this approach in the College for Working Adults. The general model for this type of program is a grant-supported work-around that exists outside of, and in addition to, the mainstream college model. This is a model with limited reach and an expensive one to sustain over time, but it has particular value as a laboratory for testing integrated concepts for systemic change. 4. Reducing the Amount Of Developmental Education a Student Takes Because of its high rate of attrition, developmental education is a key focus of attention in the effort to improve community college outcomes. Strategies that show promise in reducing the need for developmental education, on an individual and on a programmatic level, include: a. Placement Test Preparation Students often take developmental placement tests without any preparation for the test or understanding of its implications. Work currently underway in the Seattle District is demonstrating that preparing students to take the placement test can improve their scores and reduce the number of quarters that they spend in developmental education. The strategy is too new to see how this reduction in the number of quarters of developmental education impacts program completion. To further test the strategy, it will be important to develop metrics that establish current baselines for, and track changes to, the correlation between placement and completion. Depending upon the method employed and the amount of funding available, the strategy has the advantages of being relatively inexpensive and of reaching the entire college population. 6

7 b. Embedding Remediation in the Professional/Technical Curriculum Washington pioneered the I-BEST model for combining basic skills education with college level coursework and has justly received national attention for doing so. The original-best model is more expensive than traditional programs because it requires classroom overlap between content and skills instructors. I-BEST-type models, including some that have eliminated the need for this overlap, are currently being extended to developmental education through the work of ten Washington colleges funded by Gates Foundation grants. The outcomes for these programs are not yet public. Many researchers and educators believe that embedded remediation is one of the highest impact strategies available for improving professional/technical program outcomes. There are other models for doing this, in addition to the I-BEST concept, including fully integrated, mainstream college programs and separate, program-specific math and English courses (e.g. the Math for Accountants course offered by Renton Technical College). c. Alternative Methods of Delivery Educators have long known that students respond differently to different instructional methods. One approach that has gained attention is familiarly known as developmental boot camp. This is an intensive approach that usually requires students to be available on a full-time basis for an extended period of time, perhaps as long as one or two quarters. Other alternative delivery methods are selfpaced instruction and modularized curriculum (breaking down traditional quarter-long sequences into shorter, skill based modules. d. Technology-Supported Instruction Technology-supported instruction takes a number of different forms and the options are changing at a rapid pace. Among the promising approaches are: 1) Computer-based systems that offer instruction in a self-paced and/or modularized format, allowing students to take developmental classes in an instructor-supported lab; and 2) Online and computer programs that supplement instruction by providing students with tutorials, practice and feedback. One example of this is the Kahn Academy, a free, YouTube-based program that can be accessed and used by anyone with an interest in improving his or her skills. The approach is currently being piloted by the Los Altos school district in California in a format that allows the instructor to track individual student progress and adjust the classroom instruction accordingly. Sal Kahn, the creator of the Kahn Academy, spoke about how technology can enhance education at a TED conference in March His speech can be viewed at the TED website: One last word of caution: This is not a comprehensive list of all the emerging strategies. There are other practices, and there may also be solutions more specific to business service programs, that have been validated by data demonstrating improved outcomes. Nor is there a single model for any of the strategies listed above. In most cases there are multiple models, any one of which would have to be adapted to fit the particular circumstances of the situation. It would be advisable for the work group to consider more specific research before a project is actually initiated, in order to better understand the different approaches that might be undertaken. 7

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