Differences in Characteristics of Postsecondary Technical Studies in Pennsylvania Community Colleges and Two-Year Proprietary Institutions

Edgar I. Farmer
The Pennsylvania State University

Henry O'Lawrence
California State University, Long Beach

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine the differences among the personal, situational, and outcome characteristics of students in15 Pennsylvania community colleges and 16 two-year proprietary institutions, and the nature of differences in gender at both types of institutions. The study, under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Department of Education-Bureau of Vocational Technical education, was divided into three phases: Planning and Organization, Implementation, and Follow-up. This article describes results of the second phase, which involved surveying a large sample of 3,100 students currently enrolled in postsecondary programs in Pennsylvania. Although this study is oriented to community colleges and two-year proprietary institutions in Pennsylvania, other states may find parts of the research useful if they are studying the nature and performance of postsecondary technical students. The results may provokea debate for more diversity in student enrollment in community colleges technical fields of study.

American business and industry need a highly skilled workforce to compete in a global economy. Community colleges and other two-year postsecondary institutions are in the best position to fulfill that need ( McCabe, 1997 ). A policy paper issued by the American Association for Community Colleges (AACC), Workforce Training Imperative: Meeting the Training Needs of the Nation, offered a well-formed argument for assigning the community college a central role in any effort to expand workforce retraining ( Pedersen, 1993 ). Moreover, former President Bill Clinton articulated the importance of community colleges for all Americans in his speech at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City, Florida. Mr. Clinton stated: "I believe America ought to work the way the community colleges in America work. I believe they are the ultimate democratic institution, small "d"; open to everybody, where everybody has a chance; results-oriented; flexible, not bureaucratic; working in partnership with the private sector; guaranteeing opportunity for everybody who is responsible enough to seek it" ( Clinton, 1996 ).

The President's endorsement increases the credibility of community colleges. In the coming decades, community colleges will find themselves ideally positioned to prepare students with academic and technical skills for entry-level employment in the global workplace ( Farmer & Fredrickson, 1999 ; Farmer & Key, 1997 ). Other scholars have also indicated that community colleges are in the best position to prepare students and should be considered central to innovation in preparing the workforce ( Bragg, 1998 ; Grubb, 1996 ). However, many American youth still strive for the baccalaureate degree, and others are either unaware of options for technical or paraprofessional career positions or assume that no education beyond high school is necessary for meaningful work and economic independence.

In today's world, gender will be an issue in the workplace because the percentage of women has increased substantially in both the private sector and state and local government, whereas the participation rate of men has declined ( Henderson, 1994 ). Community colleges and two-year proprietary institutions have done a tremendous job in preparing women for the workforce. Furthermore, women of every ethnic group have increased their workforce participation rates from 50% in 1980 to 57% in 1990 (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993). Data on the 1997 fall headcount enrollment revealed the increase of women in both institutions. For example, in community colleges 57.9% of the students were women (3,136,324) while 42.1% were men (2,283,939); in proprietary institutions during the same time period, 55.6% of the students were women (1,665,196) and 44.4% were men (1,305,418), according to the National Center for Education Statistics ( 1999 ). There was an increase between 1990 and 1996 in the proportion of all vocational students being served by community colleges, with a corresponding decrease at private proprietary institutions ( National Center for Education Statistics, 2000 ). Overall, the number of women participating annually in higher education at all levels now equals almost 8 million, while only 6.3 million men enroll. The number of male college students has hovered around 6 million since 1975, while the number of females has grown from 5 million in 1975 to 8 million in 1997 ( King, 2000 ).

Based on data from other researchers, many highly skilled technical positions do not require a four-year college degree, but they do require more than a high school education, according to Gray and Herr ( 1995 ). Moreover, 65% of jobs in the new millennium will require some training beyond high school but not a four-year college degree ( Gray & Herr, 1995 ). However, in spite of the statistics, the sad reality in this country is that many Americans place greater value on a four-year liberal arts career than on a technical educational career.

The mission of community colleges is conceptually distinct from two-year proprietary institutions. By law, community colleges provide two-year associate degree programs, "university-parallel" lower division courses and programs for students beginning their baccalaureate degree careers, non-credit continuing education opportunities for adults, vocational and occupational education, programs for those not yet ready to do college-level work, remedial courses and programs for those who need additional assistance in such areas as reading, mathematics, and basic skills, and certificate and special programs for non-traditional students (Myers, 1997 , 1999 ). Community colleges are governed by an elected or publicly appointed board of trustees and funded equally, using the one-third formula, by local sponsors (participating school districts), state government, and student tuition. In contrast to community colleges, the mission of proprietary institutions tends to dwell on short-term focused instruction for profit, with the objective of immediate entry-level employment ( Hittman, 1995 ; Shoemaker, 1973 ). Moreover, proprietary institutions hire, retain, and promote the faculty on their demonstrated ability to teach and emphasize job placement ( Belitsky, 1969 ; Grubb, 1992 ). Historically, proprietary institutions were rarely governed by a board of lay trustees.

However, times have changed and so have proprietary institutions, especially those in pursuit of degree-granting status. The latter must establish a board of trustees composed of individuals who represent the institution's constituency-faculty, students, and supporters ( Hittman, 1995 ). Proprietary institutions have not experienced as much "hype" as community colleges, but they have managed to "carve a niche" in providing specialized technical career programs especially those programs in the business, clerical, cosmetology, and office occupations.

The graduates of proprietary institutions have less earning power than graduates of community colleges. Empirical evidence of the annual earnings of graduates from both types of institutions was recorded in Grubb's ( 1992 ) work concerning the effect of postsecondary education by type of institution. Arguments to describe significant differences between proprietary institutions and community colleges can be made on the grounds that the proprietary institution is a private enterprise and the community college is a public entity ( Hittman, 1995 ). Presently, both of these institutions with their given missions have been significant providers of training in preparing persons for the workforce under the former Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) ( Bender, 1991 ; Clowes, 1995 ).

Pennsylvania considers itself a leader among states and a competitor among nations according to its Governor, Tom Ridge ( 2001 ). Several states, (Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia) are currently using Pennsylvania's CareerLink computer system as a model to connect job seekers and employers through use of the Internet. The CareerLink web site is a customer-focused, interactive system that offers personalized job services for job seekers and employers. As a leader among states, Pennsylvania was one of the first states to implement the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). As an early implementer, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was considered a resource for identifying problems and providing feedback to the federal government as to what was or was not working.

Problem and Purpose

The problem of this study was based on a need in Pennsylvania to provide legislators and educational leaders with appropriate information to make intelligent decisions on the management of postsecondary technical education because of the urgency for more accountability. Therefore, the purposes of this study were to determine the differences among the personal, situational, and outcome characteristics of students in Pennsylvania community colleges and two-year proprietary institutions, and the nature of differences in gender at both types of institutions. The study, under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Department of Education-Bureau of Vocational Technical Education, was divided into three phases: Planning and Organization, Implementation, and Follow-up. This article describes results of the second phase, which involved surveying a large sample of students currently enrolled in postsecondary programs in Pennsylvania. Although this study is oriented to community colleges and two-year proprietary institutions in Pennsylvania, other states may find parts of this research useful if they are studying the nature and performance of postsecondary technical students.

Method

Sample

Limitations of the Study

At least three possible limitations of this study should be noted. First, the target population consisted of full-and part-time students enrolled in postsecondary technical programs leading to an associate degree in Pennsylvania community colleges and two-year 50 proprietary institutions. The variable to identify enrollment status (i.e., full-or part-time) was not listed or written on the survey instrument. Second, the sample of 3,100 represented only 5% of the total enrollment (67,750) of postsecondary technical students in Pennsylvania two-year institutions, both public and private. The third limitation pertains to the narrow scope of the study with its focus only on postsecondary students in Pennsylvania. Although Pennsylvania is considered a leader among states in education, further research should be considered to investigate the target population by increasing the involvement of more states to obtain a better geographical representation of two-year degree programs in postsecondary technical education.

Results

Much of the data from the respondents was converted to tables. However, in some instances, it was appropriate to report the data in a narrative format. It should be noted that the results are limited only to the data reported by survey respondents. As shown in Table 1, the percentage of community college respondents who were male (70%) contrasts sharply with the percentage of respondents who were male from proprietary institutions (43%). On the other hand, in the proprietary institutions a higher percentage of females (57%) exist in the postsecondary technical education programs. The results of this study showed that more males than females were enrolled in technical programs in community colleges, versus those enrolled in technical programs in proprietary institutions in Pennsylvania. However, according to the American Association of Community Colleges database, overall, there are more females (58%) than males (42%) enrolled in the 1,132 community colleges in the United States.

Conclusions

In terms of ethnicity, postsecondary technical programs in community colleges and two-year institutions participating in this study were overwhelmingly enrolled with white students (92.1 % and 90.3%, respectively). Minority students enrolled in postsecondary technical programs at a disproportionately low rate (0.9 American Indian, 1.5 Asian & Pacific American, 2.1 African American, 1.9 Latino/Hispanic) in comparison with national data that clearly show a need for research in cultural diversity that reflects the dynamics of the workplace in the new millennium. The national enrollment patterns of students in the same ethnic groups were 0.7%, 3.7%, 11.6%, and 11.6%, respectively.

Implications

Several implications may be drawn from the results of this study for education leaders and policymakers to consider when planning, managing and delivering postsecondary technical programs. In terms of planning future programs, the results may provoke a debate for more diversity in student enrollment in community colleges technical fields of study. The dynamic changes in the workforce in the new millennium will provide a major challenge for community college leaders to provide quality programs to an increasing diverse population. Although community colleges are making tremendous "in-roads" with preparing the next generation of workers with competitive technical skills, they have come short of the mark in attracting women and minorities in technical careers. At present, technical programs are dominated with white male students even though there are more females (58%) than males (42%) enrolled in the 1,132 community colleges in our nation.

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