Linking Counseling and Career/Technical Programs
As part of my recent sabbatical, I was curious to learn more about what makes career/technical programs successful and what role counseling has in their success.
A successful program would be one having an active advisory committee, and one with good quantitative and qualitative student and program outcomes in terms of enrollment, completions, etc.
I visited ten other California community colleges to find "best practices" in counseling for career/technical programs. I looked at two groups of schools-those with high success rates--in the awarding of career/technical certificates and degrees (Butte, City College of San Francisco, Mt. San Antonio, Santa Rosa and Southwestern) and those considered to be Diablo Valley College's (DVC) peer, benchmark colleges; schools that are similar to DVC in size, demographics, and are in multi-college districts (American River, DeAnza, Fresno City, Orange Coast and San Diego Mesa.)
The survey was conducted by interviewing counseling faculty, career/technical program faculty and administrators familiar with Vocational and Technical Education Act (VTEA) funding issues, using a questionnaire focused on best practices. A sample of topics addressed included:
How certificate programs interface with the Counseling Department.
How closely do instructional and counseling faculty work with one another in certificate programs? Are counselors designated to specific career/technical programs? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? Do they attend department and advisory committee meetings?
Successful components of support services that help retain students.
Counseling department handbook or webpage for counselors to access information about career/technical programs.
Probably the most important factors I observed at successful colleges were cooperation, communication, and collegiality between counselors, instructors of programs, and administrators.
When these qualities are reflected in faculty leadership, as well as strong, flexible administrators, partnerships are easily established to the benefit of programs and students. With leadership that goes beyond discrete departments and programs to include a systems oriented delivery of services, you find people inspired to work together. My most important findings are reflected in the following five recommendations:
1. C ounselor/Program Liaisons
Greater development and enhancement of counselor and career/technical program liaisons should top the list of strategies to strengthen programs. Successful programs have an identified counselor liaison that is familiar with the program, attends department meetings as well as program advisory committee meetings and is available to both department faculty and other counselors as a resource.
2. Advisory Committee Meetings
Counselor liaisons should be invited to attend program advisory committee meetings. I found that this creates a link between the counselor, the program faculty, and the community leaders in each career area.
3. Web Site Information Maintenance and Support
Colleges with the most successful certificate programs have well-designed and easily accessible web sites with up-to-date program information. The maintenance and support of this web site needs to be a high priority. For example, one college funds and supports a staff person in their Counseling Center to maintain the career/technical program web site, assuring that the most current information is always available to counselors, students, faculty and the community.
4. C urriculum Assistance
When creating and maintaining certificate programs, curriculum support is vital for career/technical program faculty. One example is the college that hired a faculty member with extensive curriculum experience to help "shepherd" the new programs through the required process. Counselors need to be kept up-to-date on the progress of these new degrees.
5. L eadership
Leadership is critical to successful, high performing programs. The most successful programs I visited were the ones with strong leadership, both at the faculty level as well as at the administrative level. Colleges need to encourage professional development opportunities to career/technical faculty and counselors to strengthen their leadership skills.
Of course, college culture, history, size, single or multi-college district, regional economy, and a myriad of other factors influence these issues. What works at a small, rural college may not be directly applicable for a large, urban, multi-college district. Look for the essence of what works, and then find ways to infuse these ideas into your own college cultures.
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