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Book Review: Maintaining Strategic Relevance (Career and Technical Education Program Discontinuance in Community and Technical Colleges)

Book Review

Fleming, K.J. (2015). Maintaining Strategic Relevance. Career and technical education program discontinuance in community and technical colleges. Lanham, Maryland: University Press. ISBN: 978-0-7618-6530-8

$24.05 (Paperback). 108 pages.

 

Do community colleges in California do a good job reviewing their career and technical education programs? Are program discontinuation decisions made fairly? Are decisions made in the best interests of the college? Who has a voice in the process for justifying the removal, or reprogramming of a CTE program? Dr. Kevin J. Fleming believes CTE discontinuation programs are properly vetted, reflect the current and future needs of students and faculty, and serve the greater good of the California Community College system. In his book Maintaining Strategic Relevance, Fleming uses rigorous case study research and analysis to shed light on the painful but necessary processes required to conduct CTE discontinuation reviews, factors driving recommendations, and illustrate the impact decisions have on stakeholders.

Organization

Fleming takes his readers through a brief, yet informative journey into the methodical, and challenging tasks involved during CTE discontinuance at the community college level. With scholastic jargon, and program policy information dominating the text, this is a serious publication, written for CTE, and other scholastic professionals. Fleming narrates his journey, using his background as dean of instruction of CTE at Norco College in Southern California, where he earned his PhD. A detailed, and often complex policy comparison of three community colleges in central and southern California is provided.

 

Fleming’s Ideas

Maintaining Strategic Relevance is not an endorsement of any single institution’s policy towards CTE program discontinuance. Rather, it offers outstanding insight into the hard work, and dedication of community college faculty in keeping their CTE program offerings current, and relevant to their schools, students, and regional labor markets. Fleming offers not only examples of policy and decision-making efforts by school districts and local boards of trustees, but also provides personal insights from faculty, and administrators who are entrenched in the day-to-day chaos and frustration of justifying program discontinuation, reprogramming, or renewal.

As regional workforce labor needs shift, so do the education and training programs that go into community college career and technical education. This is due to the seemingly non-stop pace of emerging technologies, which tend to drive the need for CTE program change through accreditation of new courses, and discontinuance due to obsolete content. Unfortunately, newly-developed technologies may out-pace the ability of colleges to respond to these changes. Another factor discussed relates to school priorities of college faculty and their leadership, which may not see eye-to-eye on the long-term frameworks of their CTE programs.

Fleming stresses the benefits of career and technical education at the community college level. CTE at the post-secondary level is critical to regional workforce development and to meeting occupational growth in certain job sectors. This is especially true, as much of the low-skilled manual labor jobs have shifted to automation or have been outsourced outright. Short-term training programs lead to certification for many career fields. Many 2-year CTE program offerings are more appropriately aligned with the growth needs of American industries.

 

Community College CTE, or a 4-Year Degree

            The debate over the benefits of obtaining a 4-year baccalaureate degree, compared to obtaining an industry credential, or 2-year associates degree has been long standing in American history.  Maintaining Strategic Relevance brings to light the need for community colleges to remain vigilant in their efforts to offer CTE programs that reflect the labor needs of regional industries, while delivering education that enhances individual knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and prepares them for the workplace. Federal legislation, funding from The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins IV), and CTE program discontinuance are discussed.

 

Perkins IV and California’s CTE Program Discontinuance

Fleming’s understanding of the critical role Perkins plays in CTE education is boundless. He points out that from its inception in 1984, the Perkins Act had been looked upon as an alternative to college, with an emphasis on training students for specific vocations. In 2004, Perkins IV was enacted, with a new goal: develop challenging academic CTE standards, integrate general education and CTE instruction, create CTE pathways via articulation, and create stronger links between secondary and postsecondary education (Moore, Shulock, 2013.

California requires community colleges to review their CTE programs on a biennial basis, with set criterion: labor market demand is met, no duplication of training programs, and program effectiveness based on student completion, and employment. Programs not meeting these requirements, by law, are subject to discontinuance. This is rarely enforced, as local program discontinuance policies often allow programs to continue well beyond the law’s intent. Another issue is the lack of consistent CTE program discontinuance policies at the district level. Inconsistent justification for discontinuance leads to program disruption for students and counselors, and the community colleges in those districts.

Strategic planning is a critical component of program discontinuance. All three referenced institutions had district policies, program review policies, as well as short, and long-term plans for ensuring programs aligned with local community needs. The most recent program reviews from the three colleges revealed twenty-two CTE programs had been discontinued, and several additional programs were merged, and/or reduced. The aftermaths of reviews that were conducted either poorly, or hastily, used program discontinuation processes as cost-cutting strategies, or conducted for the purpose of addressing accreditation issues, were fraught with distrust, political infighting, and anxiety. On the other hand, program discontinuation decisions guided by sound district and local policies, and data, resulted in appropriate decision-making for discontinuance of certain programs, and far less stress on faculty, though feelings may have been hurt along the way. Why rush or force such an important review if committees/working groups are ill-prepared or unmotivated to conduct it? Did the decisions by work groups and committees in those situations negatively impact students?

 

Final Analysis

The three case studies presented in Maintaining Strategic Relevance illustrate the importance of developing, implementing, evaluating, and revising district and local CTE program discontinuation policies. Dr. Fleming does an outstanding job of presenting not only the nuts and bolts of working through these difficult and painful decision-making processes, but he gives the reader insight into the do’s and don’ts, and how things can go sideways when local committees are thrust into service for the sake of meeting a timeline. I selected this book due my curiosity in this topic, and although I’ve never participated in the program discontinuance process personally, but I see why Dr. Fleming wrote it. He is to be thanked for sharing his research and expertise with the masses and for offering us a sobering look at CTE program discontinuance.                 

 

References

Moore, C., Shulock, N. (2013). State and system policies related to career technical education: High school to community college to workplace pathways-a working paper. Sacramento, CA: Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Policy.