Researchers examine how program structure may affect student success in the specific context of community college career-technical programs.
The aim of the research reported in this paper is "to understand how community and technical college career-technical programs in Washington State are organized and how that organization may affect students. [Researchers] address the following research questions: 1) How closely are programs aligned with further educational and employment opportunities, and to what extent does this alignment vary across programs in practice? 2) How prescribed are program requirements, and how much variation in program prescription is there across programs in practice? 3) What is the quality of information available to current and prospective students, both through the college website and other means, and how does this vary across programs in practice? 4) What types of advising and student supports are offered to current and prospective students? 5) Is there any relationship between the degree of structure along these dimensions and program performance, defined by completion rates of long-term certificates and associate degrees" (p. 3). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“All of the programs we examined exhibited fairly high levels of structure across the four dimensions in our framework: program alignment, program prescription, information quality,and active program advising and support. ... As a result, program requirements were highly prescribed, labor market linkages were fairly tight, and there were strong student supports either embedded into the program or otherwise structured into the student experience” (p. 37). Further findings are highlighted below: • “Program prescription was the dimension for which we found the least variation in structure" (p. 39). • “Some programs offered strong supports, structuring advising and counseling directly into the student experience through early alert systems, program-specific advisors, and group advising days” (p. 39). • “Overall, community and technical college career-technical programs in the fields we examined were highly structured in terms of program alignment, program prescription, and student supports” (p. 39). • “We found that career-technical programs at Washington community and technical colleges were not unstructured or overly bureaucratic, as community college programs are sometimes characterized to be (see, e.g., Rosenbaum et al., 2006)” (p. 40). • “The career-technical programs we examined tended to score more poorly on the dimension of information quality, particularly with regard to prospective students who interview or survey data, it is difficult to assess how well information was reaching students” (p. 40). • “Overall, we found limited evidence of a connection between program structure and program performance” (p. 41). • “For the reasons described above, structure may not be a particularly productive element for career-technical programs to focus on as they attempt to improve completion rates because the programs we observed, at least, were already highly structured. It may be more important to help more students enter highly structured programs and to improve structure in transfer programs in liberal arts or business programs" (p. 41). (Abstractor: Author)