ERIC Identifier: ED467985
Publication Date: 2002-04-00
Author: Peterson, Kimberly
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Welfare-to-Work Programs: Strategies for Success. ERIC Digest.
The passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) in 1996 has significantly altered the role of
community colleges in welfare-related education and training. Welfare reform now
limits the time that welfare recipients can collect benefits, and puts strong
pressures on them to find employment. PRWORA's work-first focus has led most
community colleges to adopt shorter-term training programs that emphasize rapid
employment (Szelenyi). Though studies have established that these work-first
focused programs speed up welfare recipient's entry into the labor market, they
usually do not lead to jobs that are long lasting or well paying (Brock,
Matus-Grossman, & Hamilton). Community college welfare-to-work programs
today face two often-conflicting goals: helping welfare recipients quickly
obtain employment and helping welfare recipients obtain the education necessary
to gain the types of employment opportunities that lead to permanent economic
This Digest, drawn from "The Community College Role in Welfare to Work" (New
Directions for Community Colleges, Winter 2001), focuses on how community
college welfare-to-work programs can assist welfare recipients in overcoming
barriers to success, emphasizing especially the strategies that welfare-to-work
programs have implemented to enhance program completion, job retention, and
OVERCOMING PROGRAM COMPLETION BARRIERS
welfare-to-work programs often come from backgrounds already beset with crises.
Any further disruptions to their lives can cause them to quickly abandon plans
for education and employment (Paganette & Kozell). A study of welfare
recipients prior to PRWORA found that juggling work, school, and family
responsibilities were all barriers to completing college degrees or certificate
programs (Qunit, Musick, & Lander, 1994 as reported in Brock,
Matus-Grossman, & Hamilton). Community colleges, in collaboration with the
Department of Human Services (DHS) and other community service agencies, can
work to discern potential conflicts and assist clients in overcoming these
barriers to successful program completion.
Work and School
PRWORA's work requirements pressure many welfare recipients into working at
least part-time while participating in welfare-to-work educational programs
(Brock, Matus-Grossman, & Hamilton). Participants often experience conflicts
between employer and classroom demands, therefore flexible scheduling can better
enable participants to successfully balance work and school (Brock,
Matus-Grossman, & Hamilton). Structuring courses in a modularized, open
entry-open exit format allows participants to advance at their own pace. Most
importantly, this type of course structure gives students the option of
re-enrolling, without having to repeat entire semester-long courses, if
employment or other circumstances cause them to leave prior to course
completion. Another approach is to provide on-campus internship and work-study
opportunities that fulfill PRWORA's work requirements, thus diminishing the
conflicts between work and school (Szelenyi).
Care and Transportation
Many welfare recipients lack reliable sources of childcare and
transportation, thus hampering regular attendance at work and school.
Collaboration with DHS, and government and community service agencies, as well
as private sources, can provide necessary funds to finance child care and
transportation assistance programs such as gas and car repair vouchers and
subsidized bus passes (Higgins, Mayne, Deacon, & LaComb; Pampe).
Additionally, community colleges can improve access to childcare by providing
these services on-site. Some welfare-to-work programs have used funds to bring
classes directly to the participants by loaning them computers for participation
in online community college courses, thus alleviating both child care and
transportation problems (Pampe). Welfare-to-work programs can also train
participants for specific jobs in which they can legitimately work and earn
money from home. Such an approach is taken by El Paso Community College's
(Texas) child development associate credential training program for welfare
recipients (Bombach). Graduates of this program obtain the necessary
certification to legally offer childcare services from their own homes.
ENHANCING JOB RETENTION
An important objective of helping
welfare recipients attain economic self-sufficiency is not just becoming
employed, but maintaining employment (Ream, Wagner, & Knorr). Many of the
barriers to success that welfare recipients face during educational programs
persist into the workplace. Additionally, the recipients may encounter new
challenges that they are ill equipped to face while on the job. These issues can
be overcome and prevented through proper pre-employment training and resources
that aid welfare-to-work program graduates during employment.
WORKPLACE SKILLS TRAINING
To aid in job retention, some
welfare-to-work programs have chosen to place a major emphasis on teaching
acceptable and expected workplace behaviors - skills that participants may not
need to obtain a job, but will need to maintain employment (Ream, Wagner, &
Knorr). Corporate partners of the Moraine Park Technical College (Wisconsin)
welfare-to-work program identified seven critical skills behaviors for
welfare-to-work students: "work productively, work cooperatively, communicate
clearly, learn effectively, act responsibly, value self positively, and think
critically and creatively" (Nitschke, p. 44). Employers have indicated that a
lack of these essential workplace skills is a guarantee for employee failure
(Nitschke). Programs that focus on developing workplace skills such as
communication, interpersonal behavior, teamwork, and problem solving abilities
can greatly aid job retention efforts.
Through monitoring and mentoring efforts, potential barriers to job retention
can be identified and confronted quickly before they result in job loss.
Community colleges can monitor graduates' progress in the workplace by employing
mail and telephone surveys and workplace visits by instructors (Ream, Wagner,
& Knorr). Programs can also monitor graduates in partnership with other
service agencies and organizations. When its welfare-to-work participants attain
employment, the Community College of Aurora (Colorado) transfers them to the
Goodwill Industries' Job Success Program. This Goodwill program tracks and
monitors participants for two years and helps them obtain additional support
services and funds (Higgins). Additionally, employers can take part in the job
retention effort by providing on-site job mentors and coaches to their
employees. Development of such a job mentoring program for graduates of the
Oakland Community College (Michigan) welfare-to-work program has resulted in
corporate partners reporting improvements in employment retention (Pagenette
& Kozell; Pampe).
PROMOTING EDUCATIONAL ADVANCEMENT
Given the pressures and
incentives for welfare recipients to find work, it may not be feasible for them
to earn degrees and certificates in the short term. Studies, however, indicate
that welfare recipients are most likely to achieve financial self-sufficiency by
earning a college degree (Higgins). Additionally, findings from the National
Evaluation of Welfare-to-Work Strategies suggest that obtaining a GED, and
especially obtaining a GED and some postsecondary training, can result in
significant employment earnings gains (Brock, Matus-Grossman, & Hamilton).
The challenge for community colleges is to structure their welfare-to-work
programs in ways that allow former welfare recipients to return and gain such
credentials in the future.
Through the establishment of fully articulated welfare-to-work programs,
credits can then be used towards completion of associate's degrees or
certificate programs at the community college, and eventually bachelor's degrees
programs at the college or university level (Pagenette & Kozell; Bombach).
Some community colleges have worked to further the granting of program credits
by securing the ability to grant partial credits and credits for
outside-of-classroom experiences such as work internships (Nitschke; Higgins).
The atmosphere of a community college campus can encourage participants to
envision themselves as part of an educational environment. The El Paso Community
College (Texas) welfare-to-work program requires participants to obtain college
ID cards and attend sessions where they fill out financial aid forms and
applications for admission - actions that can help program participants to
define themselves as college students, not welfare clients (Bombach).
Additionally, instructors, program coordinators, and guest speakers repeatedly
inform program participants that the credits they receive can be applied towards
educational degrees or certificate programs, and they encourage participants to
continue their education and take advantage of the credits they have received
(Bombach). Approximately half of the participants in this program choose to
enroll at the college for further education immediately after program
completion. Other community college programs have established scholarship funds
to encourage welfare-to-work program graduates to return to school (Pagenette
Community college welfare-to-work programs are
engaged in a variety of efforts to assist welfare recipients to move off welfare
and into economic self-sufficiency. Successful efforts take into account the
unique barriers that welfare recipients face - barriers that can prevent success
at both work and school. An understanding of the issues and pressures faced by
welfare recipients will contribute to the development of welfare-to-work
programs that facilitate not just job attainment, but also job retention and
educational advancement - all of which are important steps towards the ultimate
goal of permanent economic self-sufficiency.
This Digest is drawn from "The Community College
Role in Welfare to Work." New Directions for Community Colleges, Number 116,
edited by C. David Lisman. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Winter 2001.
Bombach, K. Moving Welfare Families into Economic Self-Sufficiency: A Model
from El Paso Community College. (pp. 73-82)
Brock, T., Matus-Grossman, L., Hamilton, G. Welfare Reform and Community
Colleges: A Policy and Research Context. (pp. 5-20)
Fisher, P.J. The Local Politics and Partnerships of Successful Welfare Reform
at Modesto Junior College. (pp. 21-28)
Higgins, D. The Importance of Postsecondary Training for Welfare to Work:
Initiatives at the Community College of Aurora. (pp. 67-72)
Higgins, P.C., Mayne, J., Deacon, P., LaComb, E. The JOBSplus! Program:
Successful Work First Through a Family-Based Approach. (pp. 83-94)
Lisman, C. D. Editor's Notes. (pp. 1-4)
Nitschke, D.H. The Transition to Work First in a Wisconsin Technical College.
Pagenette, K., Kozell, C. The Advanced Technology Program: A Welfare-to-Work
Success Story. (pp. 49-60)
Pampe, K.V. The State of Welfare Reform in the Rural Communities of Illinois.
Ream, J.W., Wagner, B.G., Knorr, R.C. Welfare to Work: Solutions or Snake
Oil? (pp. 61-66)
Szelenyi, K. Sources and Information: The Community College and Welfare
Reform. (pp. 95-104)