Department Seeking Guidance on Voc. Ed. Measure

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A little-noticed provision in the new vocational education law that would put more high school students on community college campuses has some federal and state officials scratching their heads.

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998, passed by the 105th Congress just before it adjourned in October, authorizes $125 million over five years for a demonstration program that involves "the location of a secondary school on the site of a community college."

The law specifies that the money must be for "tech prep programs" and be given to consortia that include a community college, a local school or district, and a business.

The bare-bones description will have to be supplemented with rules set by the Department of Education's office of vocational and adult education, said Ron Castaldi, the department's director of vocational and technical education.

Mr. Castaldi added that he doesn't yet know what those rules will be. "I'm not really sure what Congress wants," he said. "I'm not sure community colleges want high school students on their campuses."

The provision became part of the Perkins Act through an amendment offered by Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., who came up with the idea after visiting community colleges throughout his home state.

The senator viewed the provision as supporting full-time programs for high school juniors and seniors at community colleges, through which they would attend classes along with other community college students, said Sarah K. Echols, a spokeswoman for Mr. Domenici.

"It's geared toward students who might not necessarily be going on to a full university education, to get them involved in the community college and give them an avenue of getting internships with businesses," she added.

'Middle Colleges'

Federal vocational education officials turned this month to state administrators in the field, rather than back to Congress, however, in determining how money for the new provision could best be spent. The provision will not receive any funding in fiscal 1999, but possibly in fiscal 2000, said Braden Goetz, an analyst for the office of vocational and adult education.

"We want to hear from the community colleges--what do you want?" Mr. Castaldi said.

Earlier this month, he participated in a live on-line chat with state directors of community colleges, asking them how the department should carry out the new provision.

Molly Boyd, the director of state and federal initiatives for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, wrote that she thought community colleges in her state "would be happy to house a high school on their campuses." She added that the state was developing a pilot program already where high schools and community colleges would share facilities for technical programs.

Anne-Marie McCartan, the vice chancellor for academic services and research for the Virginia Community College System, suggested that the demonstration program be used to replicate the "middle college" idea. The nation now has 22 middle colleges, which are high schools on community college campuses that tend to target dropouts. She pointed to a high school program at La Guardia Community College in New York City, where a high percentage of high-risk students go on to college.

"Any federal program for high-school-in-a-college would get more bang for the buck if it targets those for [whom] college would not otherwise be in their future," she wrote through e-mail.

Mr. Castaldi said in an interview that the middle college concept is perhaps the best existing model of the kinds of programs the new demonstration program could fund.

Clarifying the Law

In the coming weeks, the office of vocational and adult education will decide such issues as how "tech prep" should be defined in the demonstration program--it generally refers to technical programs that link high schools and community colleges--and whether the program should provide funding for full high school programs or a limited number of courses.

The office has been clarifying some other confusing provisions of the Perkins Act as well. It put out a guidance memo, for example, clarifying that states may submit a short-term transition plan for vocational education funding rather than having to come up with a five-year plan by the April deadline specified in the law. States that don't produce a five-year plan, however, forfeit the opportunity to receive extra incentive money for meeting performance goals.

In the coming month, the office will put out memos on what kinds of school-to-work activities can receive funds and how states are to carry out new accountability stipulations, according to Mr. Goetz.

The Perkins Act goes into effect July 1, 1999, and authorizes vocational education funding for five years. Congress has appropriated $1.1 billion for the act in 1999.

Vol. 18, Issue 16, Page 23

Published in Print: December 16, 1998, as Department Seeking Guidance on Voc. Ed. Measure
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