Why do a Needs Assessment?

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1 Why do a Needs Assessment? The Importance of a Needs Assessment As a community college creates workforce development offerings for plus 50 learners, it is critical to conduct a needs assessment early in the program planning and development process. Without understanding the needs, interests, and objectives of its local plus 50 populations, the college will not be able to provide offerings that effectively meet the needs and promote the success of the plus 50 student. You will find that the information collected through a needs assessment will inform and drive your decisions about program design and development. If your college conducts a needs assessment, it is way ahead of the game. The AACC study of Plus 50 programs at community colleges nationwide, Educating Plus 50 Learners: Opportunities for Community Colleges (March 2009), found that a surprisingly small proportion of colleges with plus 50 programming have conducted needs assessments: only about one quarter (24%) had done so. This brief discusses the pitfalls of not doing a needs assessment in preparation for program development, and the ways in which a needs assessment can help you. A needs assessment can help you for two important reasons: 1) It can assist you with planning programs and services for plus 50 students, and 2) it can help you to make the case for these programs to other people in your college and funders. Conducting a needs assessment will help you to demonstrate and need and relevance for programs for the plus 50 population. Constructing a strong argument for why these services are necessary is important to ensure support for the plus 50 programming among your college s leadership and with funders. The rest of this section of the tool kit discusses in greater depth the ways in which a needs assessment can help you with planning programs and services for plus 50 students. Colleges Need a Perspective on Serving Plus 50 Students that Goes beyond Enrichment Community colleges have a time-honored history of serving non-traditional students, including mature learners. For a college seeking to develop workforce development programming for plus 50 students, the experience with and commitment to this population provides a very strong foundation. It can also, however, present a challenge, in the sense that the programming for plus 50 students typically tends to envision its target population in a particular way: those in retirement who are looking for leisure activities. This has meant that to the extent that offerings were created specifically for this group, they tended to be in the area of enrichment (e.g. yoga, wine-tasting, film history). Without a doubt, enrichment courses are a wonderful resource for the retirees in your area. However, this approach to programming can also create inertia a tendency to concentrate resources for older students on enrichment programming, and to see the need for programming through this lens. To overcome this tendency, your college may need a fundamental shift in perspective in order to build a plus 50 workforce development program that truly meets the needs of plus 50 individuals in your community. A needs assessment, then, is a critical step that not only helps program planners gain insight into what the plus 50 population needs from community college programming it also provides important information to other important stakeholders within the college. It provides evidence that the needs and interests of the local plus 50 population go far beyond enrichment, and that they comprise an important and growing market for workforce training courses and career development services. Why Do a Needs Assessment

2 Colleges often Ignore Specific Needs, Interests, and Objectives of Plus 50 Students when Developing their Workforce Development Programming Types of Career-Related Courses Colleges Offer to Plus 50 Learners (n=95) Of the Colleges Offering Career-Related Courses: Extent to Which Colleges Explicitly Tailor Courses to Plus 50 Needs Please note that because colleges could check more than one "offering methods" (developing, redesigning, or marketing), percentages total to more than 100%. Standalone courses 86% Standalone courses (n=82) 24% 39% 67% Courses that lead to a certificate, license, or professional credential 76% Courses that lead to a certificate, license, or professional credential (n=72) 17% 22% 86% Customized training 74% Customized training (n=70) 33% 37% 56% 0% 25% 50% 75% 100% Percent of Colleges with This Type of Course All colleges with workforce training courses Types of Career-Related Services Colleges Offer to Plus 50 Learners (n=95) 0% 25% 50% 75% 100% Percent of Colleges That Offer ThisType of Course Existing courses marketed to plus 50 learners Existing courses redesigned for plus 50 learners Developed specifically for plus 50 learners Of the Colleges Offering Career-Related Services: Extent to Which Colleges Explicitly Tailor Services to Plus 50 Needs Please note that because colleges could check more than one "offering methods" (developing, redesigning, or marketing), percentages total to more than 100%. Career Workshops 65% Career Workshops (n=62) 19% 18% 68% Services to Entrepreneurs 56% Services to Entrepreneurs (n=53) 21% 13% 74% Job Fair 52% Job Fair (n=49) 12% 12% 86% Job Listing/Database 49% Job Listing/Database (n=47) 17% 13% 72% Individual Career Counseling 47% Individual Career Counseling (n=45) 9% 22% 73% Career Center (or part of Career Center) 47% Career Center (or part of Career Center) (n=45) 9% 18% 80% Job Matching/Job Placement Services 39% Job Matching/Job Placement Services (n=37) 14% 8% 81% Job Development 39% Job Development (n=37) 24% 24% 57% 0% 25% 50% 75% Percent of College s with This Type of Service All colleges with workforce training courses 0% 25% 50% 75% 100% Percent of Colleges that Explicitly Tailor This Service Existing services marketed to plus 50 learners Existing services redesigned for plus 50 learners Developed specifically for plus 50 learners The content, structure, and culture of community college programming are typically geared toward the young adult student. 1 Consequently, community colleges can often have a difficult time taking this into account when they are creating programming for plus 50 students. They do not sufficiently address the fact that the educational and support service needs of the plus 50 student are very different from those of students in their 20s and 30s. The AACC Plus 50 survey found that although many colleges classify themselves as offering workforce training and career development services to their students 50 and over, a minority of them are actually explicitly tailoring their 1 Chao, E.L., DeRocco, E.S., and Flynn, M.K Adult Learners in Higher Education: Barriers to Success and Strategies to Improve Results. Employment and Training Administration Occasional Paper ( ); Yankelovich, D. Ferment and Change in Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 2005). Why Do a Needs Assessment

3 offerings to the plus 50 population. The graphs above show that they usually simply market courses and services designed for the typical adult learner to older students. Without Tailored Offerings, Plus 50 Students Face Obstacles to Reaching their Goals We know from research that community colleges are set up for the younger student. For example: career-related services are geared to people at the beginning of their careers; there is a lack of financial assistance for students in the plus 50 age group; there is a youth-oriented culture of the classroom; and coursework requires computer savvy (which plus 50 student may lack). 2 The need for the tailoring of services is especially apparent with career counseling and related services. Career counselors at community colleges typically work with young adults who are at the beginning of their careers, and are not equipped to provide guidance to someone in their 50s or 60s who is starting a new career, updating their skills to compete in the job market, or addressing ageism in the workplace. Career counselors thus need specific training to work with plus 50 students. Career workshops, job fairs, and job matching services need to be similarly tailored. A needs assessment gives program planners the insight it needs in order to better understand the concerns of the local plus 50 population, and how it needs to address those concerns in order to help its older students reach their skill enhancement and career goals. Needs Assessments Help Colleges to Know How to Tailor Their Offerings The AACC study shows that needs assessments make an important difference in the extent to which colleges make an effort to tailor their offerings to plus 50 students. Of the colleges that had conducted needs assessments, 64% had tailored curriculum and course delivery to the needs and interests of their plus 50 students. Of the colleges that had not conducted these assessments, only 27% had tailored their course offerings. This means that those with needs assessments tailored offerings at twice the rate as those without them. For workforce development offerings specifically, colleges that have conducted needs assessments again have an advantage. Fifty-two percent of colleges with needs assessments have tailored their workforce training courses; only 37% of colleges without needs assessments have done so. Fifty-eight percent of colleges with needs assessments have tailored their career-related services (career workshops, job fairs, etc); 36% of colleges without needs assessments have done so. Community colleges that have assessed the needs of their local plus 50 population thus have been more successful in creating offerings designed specifically for this age group. In order to understand how to design the offerings effectively, college staff must first gain a good understanding of what the plus 50 population needs from courses and services. 2 American Council on Education. Framing New Terrain: Older Adults and Higher Education (2007). Portland Community College Taskforce on Aging. Boomers go to College (2007). Why Do a Needs Assessment

4 What Might Your Needs Assessment Include? The Five Basic Components of a Needs Assessment You should always keep in mind the overarching goal of your needs assessment: to provide insight into the needs, objectives, and interests of your local plus 50 population in relation to workforce training and career development services. But your needs assessment should also provide additional important context that is helpful in designing programs and support services for this group. Below is a list of the five basic components your needs assessment should address: Local employer and industry needs, and information about growth occupations in your area. An estimate of the size of your market: approximately how many plus 50 individuals in your area will have the need for workforce training and career development services. The needs, interests, constraints, and preferences of your local plus 50 population. Basic information about potential competitors and collaborators: what other organizations in your area provide similar services and could either compete for your customers, or provide opportunities for partnership. Recommendations for program development and design. Local Employer and Industry Needs, and Growth Occupations Workforce education programming is not planned with an eye only to the career goals of the local plus 50 population. A college should offer workforce training that is aligned with the needs of local employers and industry. In other words, what are the growth occupations? In what fields are people likely to find jobs? Understanding what the employer needs and growth occupations are in your area is very important to making choices about what types of training courses and programs to offer. Estimated Market Size This is an estimate of how many individuals in the college s service area will be potential consumers of workforce education courses and services tailored to plus 50 students. It is primarily a function of the number of people age 50 and older. It also depends on the labor force participation rate of those in this age group. The labor force includes both employed people and people looking for work. To estimate the market size, you would assume that nearly all unemployed people can make use of skill-upgrades and job search supports, and you would use an estimated percentage of employed people who would have an interest in changing jobs. Needs of the Local Plus 50 Population for Workforce Training and Career Development Services In your needs assessment report, you need a section that summarizes what you have learned from the data you have collected from your local plus 50 population directly. This is the heart of the matter: what your local plus 50 population wants and needs. This includes their needs regarding training programs as well as career development services. For training program needs, you want to find out the following type of information: What skills do they need to learn? What are their career interests? Are they interested in one or two courses that can help them brush up their skills, or do they want to obtain a certificate or credential? What type of instructional delivery works best for them? What obstacles do they see to enrolling in community college classes? What Might Your Needs Assessment Include

5 This part of the needs assessment should also address what types of career services would be most helpful to them? What services are most important in supporting this population in making choices about career and finding employment? These could include support services such as advising (so that students can know how to best choose courses and perhaps certificate programs in a way that will best fulfill their career objectives), career counseling (other advising services that support students in a successful job search), career workshops (on topics such as resume writing, networking, and how to conduct a successful job interview), and services for entrepreneurs. Assessing the market need includes understanding which of these services will be most useful for this group, and how to tailor them appropriately to effectively meet the interests and career objectives of the local plus 50 population. Competitor/Collaborator Information Information on competitors and collaborators, also known as an asset map, is designed to show what offerings already exist in the community. This information will be useful in program planning for two reasons: (1) you may not want to offer something that is already available in the community; and (2) if something is already available, you may want to pursue a partnership with the organization that offers that service. Note that this toolkit does not contain a tool for collecting competitor/collaborator information. This information can be collected relatively easily, however, through meetings and conversations with your college s Workforce Development department. You may also be able to obtain information like this through some internet research, and from local agencies such as your workforce investment board. Recommendations for Program Development and Design The recommendations section of your needs assessment will bring everything together. This includes all of the relevant results from the data collection you have done. It is easiest to develop recommendations through discussions of the data with your team and if you have one with your advisory group. Collectively you can think through what the results mean for how to most effectively meet the needs of your local plus 50 population. Your recommendations should distil this wisdom, and provide guidance for program developers. What Might Your Needs Assessment Include

6 Getting Ready: Laying the Groundwork before You Begin the Needs Assessment As with any project, the needs assessment project and process will benefit greatly from careful up-front planning. This section of the toolkit lays out the tasks you should complete before you actually begin the needs assessment, and also provides some recommendations for how to facilitate a successful needs assessment process as it is underway. The major preparation tasks are: Assemble your needs assessment implementation team. Create a timeline and workplan for completing the needs assessment. Develop a budget. Assemble a Needs Assessment Implementation Team In assembling your needs assessment team, it is highly recommended that you draw from other college departments and other individuals in your college community. The diversity of this group will serve you well in two ways: Your team members have diverse perspectives. This means that team members can bring to the table input on what the needs assessment needs to accomplish. What the Continuing Education department wants to know from the assessment probably differs from what the Workforce Development department wants to find out. If all of these needs are voiced at the outset, your needs assessment will be sure to be useful to all of its key audiences. Your team members bring diverse talents. The needs assessment requires many different types of skills, from the technical skills of using Excel, conducting survey data analysis, and making charts, to the softer skills of facilitating discussions and report writing. By bringing together a team with different talents, you will have people who can bring their skills to all different parts of the needs assessment. Who should you consider asking to join your team? Take advantage of the many different departments, skillsets, and community members at your college. The table on the following page shows where important skills might come from, and whom you might be able to tap for support. Keep in mind that you should create your own table and fill it out in a way that makes sense for your own college. The check-marks in the table denote that a particular stakeholder is likely to have skills or capacity for a particular task, not that you need all these stakeholders to do all of these tasks. As a rule, the check-marks in this table are meant as suggestions only! There is one exception to this rule: the column for designing data collection tools. We recommend that you have people from many different departments and a plus 50 volunteer have input on these tools. This is because the information you collect will determine the conclusions you can draw when it comes time to write up your results, and you want to make sure all of these critical stakeholders were able to offer insights on what data to collect. How large should your team be? One person should act as the project manager, and it is helpful to have one or two associates as well. Bring in additional team members for specific tasks as needed. Consider assembling an Advisory Group as well. Any team can benefit from the wisdom of an advisory group. This group can provide expertise and an additional perspective for your needs assessment, especially when you are considering what the data you have collected implies for your recommendations on program design. For your advisory group you may want to include individuals from the same stakeholder groups from which you might draw Getting Ready: Laying the Groundwork Before You Begin a Needs Assessment

7 your team. The advisory group can potentially provide you with expertise not on your implementation team, and may also include individuals from outside partners (such as your Workforce Investment Board). Please return to this table to help you brainstorm in choosing your team and/or advisory group after you have read through the whole tool kit so you know more about what each of the tasks involves. Departments and Community Members Assessing Local Employer Needs Market Sizing Needs Assessment Skills/Capacity Tool Design for Data Collection Quantitative Data Analysis Qualitative Data Analysis Report Writing Administrative Support Tasks Workforce Development Continuing Education Student Services Institutional Research Marketing Plus 50 Volunteer Work-Study Student Needs Assessment Timeline and Workplan The table below provides a sample timeline and workplan that can jump-start your thinking on how to structure the work and plan how it will unfold over time. Each phase may be one day, one week, or a little longer it all depends on how much time the team has to spend, calendaring issues, and such factors as how many focus groups you want to do or how long you want to leave an online survey open. And of course selecting a subset of the tasks (e.g. you may decide not to do a survey) means your timeline will be shorter. Task Assessment of local employer needs Market sizing Survey development Survey administration Survey analysis Focus group question development Focus groups Summarizing focus group results Discussion of results with stakeholder groups Development of draft report Stakeholder feedback Report finalization Phase Getting Ready: Laying the Groundwork Before You Begin a Needs Assessment

8 The following table also provides you with some ball-park estimates of the hours your team members can expect to spend on individual tasks. This does not include every task, nor does it include time for project management. Needs Assessment Components Estimated Time Market Sizing 2-4 hours Assessment of local employer needs using 2-4 hours publicly available data Focus group data collection Drafting the focus group protocol 2 hours 1 hour per focus group (plus an additional half hour Conducting the focus group for set-up and clean-up) Summarizing the focus group results 1-2 hours per focus group Survey data collection Drafting the survey 4-8 hours 2 hours to create electronic survey Administering a Web-based survey 1 hour per week to monitor survey and send reminders Mailing preparation time varies by number of surveys Administering a paper-based survey Data entry varies by number of surveys 2-4 hours if you use an online survey program Survey Management and Analysis 6-8 hours if you use Excel hours including discussion of preliminary Drafting and finalizing report results with stakeholder groups Budget Template for Your Needs Assessment The table below provides a space for you to estimate expenses required for implementing the Needs Assessment tools. The total expenses will depend on factors such as your survey sample size, costs in your geographic area, and the survey implementation method you choose. Needs Assessment Data Collection Tool Focus group Snacks and refreshments for participants Incentives Survey Subscription to an online survey tool Consumer Mailing Lists Mailing expenses (stamps, envelopes, printing) Incentives TOTAL Estimated Expense Amount Getting Ready: Laying the Groundwork Before You Begin a Needs Assessment

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