POV: Seeds of Workforce Development Sown at Kellogg Community College
In the fall semester of 1965, two employment counselors with the Michigan State Employment Commission from Grand Rapids came to Lowell High School to see about the school starting a clerk-typist program for about 15 unemployed single welfare women. None of these potential enrollees had previously received any training beyond high school and a few had not finished high school.
The counselors told me that funding was no problem as they had received a grant through the federal government from the Manpower Development Training Act (MDTA), which had been passed by Congress in 1962. They would be able to pay for instruction, buy textbooks, paper and other supplies for this program. It would last for 16 weeks and then “graduates” would be presented with a certificate of completion.
None of the other business teachers at the school were interested in teaching in this new adult program, so I agreed to teach it from 3:30 to 6 p.m. three days a week after my work as director of guidance duties ended for the day. I was to teach in the program until another teacher could be found. Sixteen weeks later, I was still the teacher and the students had quietly petitioned the employment counselors to extend the program. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to go another eight weeks, which would give the students a total of 24 weeks of instruction.
The changes that these students experienced presented us with outcomes well beyond typing and filing. Several reported their children were studying with them at night and their grades were improving. Reports of their children’s pride provided some of the discussion that we had in our review time before each class session started. These women also started dressing better as the program progressed. Their attitudes improved, too, as they gained more confidence and positive feedback in their course work.
The program ended with a party of cake and soft drinks and with a picture taken for the local newspaper. The women had asked the employment counselors for both of these course ending events. I have to admit that having their picture in the paper was a surprise to me. It was a departure from the lack of recognition each of these women undoubtedly experienced during their earlier schools years.
The following year, I moved to Kellogg Community College and within two years became the dean of Evening College.
Now I was in a position to expand training and education programs to other schools within the college district and to work with area agencies in the greater Battle Creek, Mich., area.
We were asked in 1968 to consider writing a proposal for some Manpower Development Training Act funding through our state department of education. Having the experience with the clerk-typist program in Lowell, I convinced the top administration that we should try for one of these grants. The president and some of the other deans were not sure we should start bringing in “these type of people” to the college.
But my persistence paid off and we were awarded a grant of around $19,000 to run our first program under the MDTA guidelines. We had been asked to write a competitive grant to try to beat out a local business school that had not been very successful because students were not challenged and the completion rate was very low. We were confident that if we received the funding, we would be successful.
The success rate of our first program was just over 60 percent of enrollees completing the full program. A colleague at Jackson Community College had told me that if we had two or three completers the program would be a success. It was difficult for me to think we would ever accept such poor results. Eventually, we ran a second MDTA clerk-typist program, and then expanded to a beginning draftsman program. Our program counselors worked to help the employment commission identify and accept students who had at least average to high motivation.
We found through our interviews that most of the students lacked adequate mathematics and reading backgrounds to be successful. So we added reading improvement and applied mathematics to our application. The local state representative argued with us, saying that these support classes were not needed and might jeopardize our grant application. With a strong presentation in the state Capitol in Lansing, we prevailed. The success rate in the beginning drafting program was more than 70 percent.
Each of these programs had a graduation ceremony with the college president presenting the certificates that the employment commission had prepared. During each of these programs, our counselors made contacts throughout the college district to promote the availability of the clerk-typists and drafting students upon completion. Some businesses started coming to the campus to observe the students in the programs and to offer encouragement to complete their program and possibly apply for work with their firms.
It was difficult to project possible outcomes when we started these programs. But students were learning how to conduct themselves as professionals: dressing for work; respecting each other; accepting positive feedback when it was earned; learning to accept supervision; and, completing the program they had started.
Our counselors worked hard to be sure absenteeism wasn’t going to be a problem and called each student if they did not show up for a class any of the days they should be there. We also set up small group counseling sessions that dealt with the stresses of family, financial needs, and lack of outside support they often experienced. The groups became critically important as the program evolved and proved to be a major retention strategy for many enrollees.
After three years of running these programs at KCC, we were notified by the state and local employment and education offices that our programs had achieved the highest completion rates in the Michigan programs, and that most of the completers had been placed in jobs.
These early programs from 1968-72 helped to launch Kellogg CC in a new direction of workforce development — something that had rarely been tried before at community colleges. At the time, numerous community colleges were opening their doors for the first time and many adopted workforce development as a goal.
Prior to this time, the colleges’ efforts had been almost fully concentrated on the transfer associate degree..
A federal Employment & Administration program eventually replaced the MDTA program. But it had provided the platform necessary for our community colleges to continue to be at the forefront of workforce development, and in retraining dislocated workers and those persons lacking the basic skills to be employed.
Hans A. Andrews is the distinguished fellow in community college leadership for Olney Central College in southeastern Illinois. He retired in 2002 as president of Olney Central College working in community colleges for more than 35 years.