Needs, Feedback, and The Future: Need Sensing Activities in 2001

Publication April 2002

In 2001, the two National Centers for Career and Technical Education conducted need sensing concerning the general needs of the field, dissemination activities, and major forces in the environment judged likely to influence education in the foreseeable future. The need sensing took place with networks developed in regions assigned to the five primary partner institutions, with the National Centers’ Advisory Council, with key state leaders, by monitoring discussions on CAREERTECH, the primary listserv of the two centers, and through review of pertinent literature.

The findings regarding the general needs of Career and Technical Education (CTE) primarily verified and amplified the results obtained in 2000. The main forces acting at the secondary level are pushing toward broader programs with higher standards and expectations for both academic and technical skills. Most who participated in the need sensing support these changes and believe that their programs are equipping students both to enter employment and to continue their education. They feel that the general public is poorly informed about current programs, and that this contributes to an image problem—that CTE is for the less able student.

Recruiting and preparing instructors and administrators continue as major challenges. Preservice programs are finding it hard to attract students, and many universities have dropped preparation for CTE. Those occupational areas that seek instructors from business and industry also have difficulty recruiting. These difficulties are likely to intensify as secondary programs increase their emphasis on the integration of academics, and teach skills needed in broad clusters rather than specific occupations.

At the postsecondary level, major concerns include accountability, articulation, professional development, and competition. Accountability data are difficult to assemble, and many traditional measures are not appropriate for students who take only a few courses to meet individual needs. Articulation both with high schools and four-year baccalaureate programs has proved difficult to achieve. The use of adjunct faculty is increasing despite persistent questions about the pedagogic skills of many part-time instructors. Leadership is an especially acute concern. High rates of retirement are expected in coming years, and it is difficult to find administrators with a background in CTE. On-line courses are increasing, and community colleges are finding it difficult to compete with national providers, such as the University of Phoenix.

The need sensing regarding dissemination activities focused on publications produced during 2000 and regional conferences that were planned for the fall of 2001. Participants in the need sensing networks were sent copies of InBriefs, Highlight Zones, and newsletters, and follow-up conference calls were scheduled to discuss usage of these publications and to obtain suggestions for increasing circulation. The overall evaluations were quite favorable; the two-page format of the InBriefs was especially appreciated. The major recommendation for increasing distribution was to solicit the cooperation of associations and organization involved in CTE and ask them to inform their membership about the publications. The main topics suggested for future issues were standards; technology, especially in distance learning; articulation; and assessment.

The suggestions received for publicizing and conducting regional conferences became moot when the terrorist attacks of September 11 caused the cancellation of the conferences. These conferences had been planned to facilitate extended interaction between practitioners and researchers from the National Centers. The network participants were receptive to the general approach of the conferences, but cautioned that it is difficult to find time and funds to attend the many that are already available. If they had been held, the recommendations were that they should stress specific approaches that “can be taken home.”

An environmental scan was developed by assembling and reviewing a variety of documents that described trends in the environment that were judged likely to influence education in general, and CTE, in particular, in the remaining years of the current decade. The major forces identified were the echo boom, globalization, and high rates of technological change. The echo boom is the large number of students currently moving through the educational system—the children of the original baby boom. Total high-school and postsecondary enrollments in this decade will exceed the previous peaks of the 1970s. Globalization and technological change are producing rapid changes in the economy, and creating a demand for a workforce that can continue to learn and adapt. These are the driving forces behind the educational reforms that began in the 1980s.

The environmental scan was circulated to the network participants, and they were asked to react to it and assess its implications for CTE. Very few did so. Five contributed comments to an on-line discussion group, and three from the University of Minnesota region took part in a conference call. The reactions from this limited number primarily addressed the role and purpose of CTE at the secondary level. As with those who participated in other need sensing, the main theme of their comments was the broadening of CTE, with increased emphasis on academic content and articulation to postsecondary education. With this broader focus, however, those who were interested enough to comment do not want to see CTE lose it core—its focus on occupations.

Lewis, M. V. (2002, April). Needs, feedback, and the future: Need sensing activities in 2001. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education, University of Minnesota.

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