Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Meeting Nontraditional Enrollment Goals

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To meet the standards set by the Carl Perkins Act, a significant source of funding for CTE, we need to help more young men and women complete programs that are nontraditional for their gender. This isn't just a bureaucratic requirement; it's an opportunity to help each student find a career path that best suits his/her talents and interests.

We all benefit when young women have the encouragement they need to succeed in nontraditional fields like engineering and computer science and young men are supported in health sciences and teacher education. Our economy will be stronger when every student can find a job that fits him/her and every career is open to the widest possible pool of talent.

Do you know which CTE courses are nontraditional in Virginia?
The courses that schools must target in order to meet Perkins requirements are officially designated by the Office of Career and Technical Education Services every year and listed in the appendices to the CTERS User's Manual. Check through this quick list of nontraditional courses to make sure you know which ones qualify.  It is not always obvious which courses are designated nontraditional and for which gender.
Last year, when I interviewed Virginia teachers who were successful in enrolling nontraditional students, I learned that marketing and outreach were a big part of their success. Teachers uniformly believed that direct contact was the best way to reach students — to make sure that they were aware of CTE courses and their benefits and that students felt comfortable enrolling. But connections with others in school were also important. When academic as well as CTE teachers, administrators, and counselors throughout a school are comfortable talking one-on-one to students about CTE and supporting students who are interested in nontraditional programs, then nontraditional enrollments tend to rise.

This is often easier said than done. In some small schools all teachers and administrators know each other and gladly cross-promote. In large schools or schools where CTE is cut off from other programs, this can be difficult. In some divisions, CTE teachers have worked hard to reach out to nontraditional students but still have trouble meeting their goals. Sometimes even when nontraditional students enroll, they don't have the social support or the academic preparation that they actually need to stay in programs to completion.

While "getting the word out" is clearly the essential first step to reaching nontraditional students, sometimes it takes more than this. If your CTE program has worked on improving outreach but still isn't seeing a rise in enrollment or if your school is successful in generating student interest and enrollment, but nontraditional students aren't sticking with the program to become completers, it's probably time to look for more help.
Root Causes for Success with Nontraditional Students
Summary of NAPE Root Causes Chart

Academically proficient women are more likely to choose nontraditional careers, while the opposite is more predictive for men.
Success in math, science, and technology courses
increases the likelihood of women participating in nontraditional careers.
Elements of a bias-free curriculum
include: relevancy, inclusive images and text, and hands-on instructional practice.
Females prefer learning experiences
that they help to design, that are learner centered, and that involve them in a community.
Students who experience a school climate
supportive of nontraditional careers are more likely to choose one.
Receiving support services
makes students in nontraditional CTE programs more likely to succeed.
Career guidance materials and practices that adhere to equitable standards can increase participation. Brochures, talks, or demonstrations alone are helpful, but insufficient.
Providing information about nontraditional careers to elementary and middle schoolers will increase participation in nontraditional careers.

Careers that give back to the community can attract both men and women to nontraditional fields. Providing  information about high-wage, high-skill occupations, especially STEM, promotes participation.
Characteristics and engagement of family
of origin have a strong influence on career choice.
The strength of a female’s self-efficacy
is directly related to entry and persistence in an nontraditional career.
Reducing stereotype threat
positively influences achievement.
Negative Media
 solidifies gender stereotyping.
Positive media
portrayal of individuals in nontraditional careers increases participation.
The opinions of peers
, especially during adolescence, can influence nontraditional career choice.
A nontraditional mentor
, is a significant factor in the decision to pursue a nontraditional career.
Collaboration
 between schools and community-based organizations and business impacts the pipeline for nontraditional careers.

Resources from the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE)

The National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity has resources you can use. NAPE is a membership organization, so some resources are restricted to members, but many are free on their website.

The first step to rethinking your approach to nontraditional students might be to check out Nontraditional Career Preparation: Root Causes and Strategies. On this web page NAPE summarizes research on why students do and do not complete nontraditional programs and move into nontraditional careers. They also summarize strategies for addressing each of these causes and provide information and resources for implementing these strategies.

NAPE has also developed a five-step strategic planning process, called Program Improvement Process for Equity™ (PIPE) to help schools and colleges take a systematic approach to addressing nontraditional enrollment and completion. NAPE professionals work with schools to implement this process, but they also provide resources online to help you begin assessing your own programs. NAPE recommends a 5-step process to address enrollment and retention problems:
  • ORGANIZE. Build a team that includes secondary and postsecondary partners committed to improvement.
  • EXPLORE. Analyze data to document current  and past performance and use this to identify improvement priorities.
  • DISCOVER. Determine the most important and most direct causes of performance gaps in your school.
  • SELECT. Select solutions that have the greatest potential to eliminate the barriers students are facing in your programs.
  • ACT. Explore practical yet rigorous methods and tools for evaluating solutions before full implementation and develop plans to implement research-based strategies for program improvement.

STEM Equity

Improving access to STEM careers for all students is just as important as improving gender equity across all courses, and we still have a lot to do here.  As I described last year, Hispanics and African Americans are seriously underrepresented in STEM education programs and consequently in STEM careers. Hispanics and African Americans each make up about six percent of the national STEM workforce, well below their proportions of the total population. Improving the education that these students receive in high school is the first step in addressing this problem.

The same techniques that schools have used to address gender equity are also valuable for addressing equity for Hispanics and African Americans. The very first step is to make sure that teachers, administrators and counselors are reaching out to these students to make direct personal invitations to enroll in STEM courses. Students who show any spark of interest in this field should be encouraged to pursue it, and personal contact is the key. Announcements, brochures, posters help set the tone for a program, but students need personal encouragement to take that first step.

However, simple outreach is usually not enough to resolve this issue. Schools may need to conduct serious evaluation of their existing programs successes and failures. The method that NAPE recommends for addressing gender equity also helps with this process. NAPE is engaged in this equity issue as well as in gender equity and will assist schools and colleges with this through their PIPE-STEM program.