ERIC Identifier: ED355455
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Imel, Susan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Vocational Education's Role in Dropout Prevention. ERIC Digest.
"I've been a trouble-maker at this school most of the time and have gotten
terrible grades in math until this year. I'm in this Applied Math class where we
work on teams to solve problems like the ones I have when I work with my
father--a carpenter. I love the class and never fall asleep anymore because we
learn things that I can use when I help my dad." (Presson and Pritz forthcoming)
The potential dropout quoted above demonstrates what many are coming to
realize: implemented appropriately, vocational education can be a powerful force
in helping achieve National Education Goal 2--increasing the high school
graduation rate to at least 90 percent.
The individual and societal costs of dropping out have been well documented.
According to recent estimates, each dropout represents an average loss of
$58,930 in federal and state income taxes during the course of a lifetime. For
the 3,881,000 dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24 years in 1991, this amounts
to $228.7 billion over their lifetimes (ibid.). Innovative solutions are
required to stem the waste of human potential created by dropping out. Many of
the characteristics of instruction in vocational education such as its hands-on,
performance-oriented approach; its connection to the workplace; and its emphasis
on individual and small-group activities make it an effective mechanism for
increasing high school graduation rates (Weber 1988).
This ERIC DIGEST examines the role of vocational education in dropout
prevention. Following a discussion of the current context, an enhanced
vocational education program model based on findings from federally funded
vocational education dropout prevention projects is presented. It concludes by
describing a dropout prevention program based on one of the demonstration
VOCATIONAL EDUCATION'S CURRENT CONTEXT
The education reform
movement has placed vocational education in a precarious position. For some time
many within and outside of vocational education have argued that it must play an
increasingly important role in the enhancement and reinforcement of students'
basic skills and in the practical application and use of higher-order skills. To
do this, however, it must develop an organized, comprehensive approach to
addressing the challenges of changes in the world of work, changes in the work
force, and national priorities and policies (Hamby 1992). The latter, including
the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, publication
of AMERICA'S CHOICE: HIGH SKILLS OR LOW WAGES! (Commission on the Skills of the
American Workforce 1990), the SCANS report (Secretary's Commission on Achieving
Necessary Skills 1991), and the adoption of AMERICA 2000: AN EDUCATION STRATEGY
(U.S. Department of Education 1991), "have brought vocational education to
center stage of reform in public education" (Hamby 1992, p. 7).
One approach that can help vocational educators respond affirmatively to the
current challenges emerges from a 3-year study of vocational education's role in
preventing at-risk youth from dropping out. Funded by the Office of Vocational
and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education, in 10 demonstration sites
across the United States, the project resulted in a number of findings that have
been synthesized into an enhanced vocational education program model described
in VOCATIONAL EDUCATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY (Hamby 1992). The enhanced program
is based on the experiences sites had in integrating "the best of vocational
education with a variety of successful policies, practices, and strategies to
reach students who have not graduated from school, who might not graduate, and
who might graduate with too few effective skills to sustain them in a
competitive and changing job market" (ibid., p. 2).
AN ENHANCED VOCATIONAL EDUCATION PROGRAM MODEL
two of the demonstration sites were alike, they shared a number of successful
strategies and practices that could be identified across projects and fit into a
common framework. This framework, which includes the best elements of all
projects yet is flexible enough to meet the needs of a variety of students,
consists of both a curriculum component and an educational support system
The model's curriculum component is balanced among the following
Regardless of their goals following graduation, all students need to be
competent in such academic areas as communicating, computing, problem solving,
group living and economic self-sufficiency, understanding relationships among
groups, understanding the natural world, and maintaining wellness.
EDUCATION. A core set of occupational training activities and experiences is an
integral part of an enhanced vocational education program. Although offerings
varied across sites, each included several choices from the eight main areas of
vocational education: trade and industrial education, business education,
agriculture, home economics, marketing education, technical education,
technology education, and health occupations. Also important are courses that
count in the diploma track or lead to certification, on-the-job training, and
vocational education and career exploration for middle school or early high
school students as well as for at-risk high school students who are not ready to
enter an occupational training program.
SKILLS TRAINING. In addition to academic and occupational education,
demonstration sites found that students also needed employability skills
training to help them develop appropriate work-related characteristics and
habits. Specific skills covered by this training include searching for a job
(e.g., completing applications, preparing for interviews), adhering to
employers' schedules, exhibiting initiative and motivation, participating as a
team member, exercising leadership, and working with people from diverse
SKILLS TRAINING. This unique feature of enhanced vocational education curricula
offers students training designed to deal with the personal and social issues of
daily living, both in and out of school, in the present and the future. Although
this particular component of the comprehensive curriculum has not received as
much attention as the others, project findings indicated that it was a critical
element for success in school and on the job. Specific life-coping skills
include developing a well-defined personal identity, identifying and dealing
with personal fears, coping with different feelings and emotions, making wise
choices, dealing positively with values conflicts, and choosing ethical courses
The comprehensive core curriculum is designed to prepare students for
lifelong employment through lifelong learning and to ensure successful living in
the real world.
The comprehensive curriculum described here must be supported
by an equally comprehensive educational support system to ensure that the
curriculum is available to students over an extended period. Results of the
project indicated that an enhanced vocational education support system should
address the following: program location and organization; student recruitment,
selection, and orientation; instructional strategies; counseling and guidance;
student management and discipline; community collaboration; parental and family
involvement; staff selection and development; flexible scheduling; summer
school; small class size; transportation; and district commitment and support.
THE LIFELONG OPTIONS PROGRAM
The Lifelong Options Program
(LOP) emerged from the same federally funded demonstration programs as the
enhanced vocational education model and it shares many of the characteristics of
that model. Based on Project COFFEE (Cooperative Federation for Educational
Experiences), LOP's major goal is to improve the academic, occupational, and
personal skills of potential high school dropouts. Its curriculum is organized
around six major components: vocational education, applied academics,
counseling, employability skills training, life-coping skills, and physical
education. Holistic in its approach, LOP has proven effective with youth who
previously might not have chosen vocational education (Shirley and Pritz 1992).
Although each LOP participant receives support from all six curriculum
components, the vocational education component is the foundation of LOP. It
consists of the following options from which students select:
EDUCATION CURRICULUM. Students selecting this option receive 3 hours of regular
instruction per day in their chosen occupational classes at vocational-technical
centers. An advantage of this option is its compatibility with a split-day
schedule that allows students to travel from home or another educational site.
Under this option, students can shadow a number of vocational programs during
their initial semester, allowing them an opportunity to select an occupation on
the basis of first-hand knowledge.
EDUCATION. This option permits students to earn credit toward graduation and
acquire practical learning experiences by participating in supervised jobs at
EXPERIENCE. Students completing 50 percent of the required vocational education
objectives may opt to receive credit for the balance through a job in their
chosen vocational area.
BUSINESS. This option permits students to participate in managing and operating
a business enterprise.
The options offered by the vocational education component of the LOP
curriculum permits potential dropouts to develop technical and business skills
and the employability and personal skills needed for success in the current and
future work force (ibid.).
LOP also has a support system component consisting of the following elements:
staff selection and training; student selection, recruitment, and orientation;
flexible scheduling; instructional procedures; student management;
administration; and program management. These elements complement, support, and
strengthen the curriculum component.
Those interested in implementing LOP can learn from the experiences of the
demonstration projects, which resulted in the following recommendations: assess
needs and determine vision, collaborate, market the program, communicate
frequently and effectively, choose competent staff, nurture staff and students,
demonstrate innovation, share experiences, and seek improvement (ibid., p. 5.1).
Commission on the Skills of the American
Workforce. America's Choice: High Skills or Low Wages! Rochester, NY: National
Center on Education and the Economy, June 1990. (ED 323 297)
Hamby, J. V. Vocational Education for the 21st Century. Clemson, SC: National
Dropout Prevention Center, September 1992. (ED 351 489)
Presson, A., and Pritz, S. G. "How to Make Evaluation Efforts in Dropout
Prevention Work." Vocational Education Journal, forthcoming.
Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. What Work Requires of
Schools. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor, 1991. (ED 332 054)
Shirley, L. J., and Pritz, S. G. The Lifelong Options Program: A Handbook for
Implementing and Managing a Vocational Education Program for Youth at Risk.
Clemson, SC: National Dropout Prevention Center, September 1992. (ED 351 490)
U.S. Department of Education. America 2000: An Education Strategy.
Washington, DC: USDE, 1991. (ED 332 380)
Weber, J. M. "The Relevance of Vocational Education to Dropout Prevention."
Vocational Education Journal 63, no. 6 (September 1988): 36-38.