JITE v34n2 - T & I Education Students' Perceptions of Courses
T & I Education Students' Perceptions of Courses
Dr. Karen H. Jones
The University of Georgia
Dr. Myra Womble
The University of Georgia
Cynthia A. Searcy
The University of Georgia
As the 21st century comes to a close, students in urban settings face many educational and employment challenges. Urban youth often are characterized as potential high school dropouts or non-college bound. Urban youth are confronted by an environment typified by high unemployment, underemployment, or part-time employment with minimal job security or benefits ( Rosenbaum, 1989 ). At the same time, projections indicate that, over the next 20 years, employers and the U.S. economy will rely on a workforce drawn from urban communities ( Lytle, 1992 ). Unfortunately, more than one fourth of American students drop out of school, and little is done to recover or retain them ( Marshall & Tucker, 1993 ). In its second annual report to Congress, the National Center for Education Statistics indicated that students residing in central cities were more likely to drop out than were students in non-urban schools ( Kaufman & Frase, 1990 ). Many of these students leave high school with fewer academic and vocational skills compared with students in other industrialized countries.
Reports such as those prepared by the William T. Grant Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship ( 1988 ) and the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills ( 1992 ) referred to a "forgotten half" of young people who leave high school without the foundational skills required to obtain and keep a job in a rapidly changing workplace. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teachers report, An Imperiled Generation: Saving Urban Schools ( 1988 ), concluded that vocational programs too frequently provide hands-on experiences without intellectual depth or academic standards. They concluded that high aspirations for all students must be maintained as opposed to tracking some students into non-academic programs that offer limited options for higher education.
Scott and Sarkees-Wircenski ( 1996 ) refer to T & I education as the broadest of all vocational fields, identifying 52 program/course topics. They note that "T & I education programs at the secondary level are the second most popular occupational programs with 36% of all students who enrolled in labor market preparation areas earning credits in T & I education programs" ( p. 37 ). Therefore, it is one occupationally relevant program that should be considered a potentially important component of urban school reform.
Previous research has examined student perceptions toward specific areas in vocational education. Suburban students ( n = 153, 74.3% white) perceived their fashion marketing courses as worthwhile ( Ruff, 1993 ). Similarly, urban students ( n = 167, 97.6% African American) believed their business courses prepared them for employment in business-related jobs ( Womble, Ruff, & Jones, 1995 ). Students in both studies were less positive about the extent to which their respective courses taught mathematics skills needed in the workplace.
Findings in both of the above studies supported a need for collaboration between academic and vocational teachers in the integration of academic and vocational instruction to improve basic academic skills and strengthen workplaces. Neither study's findings supported the view that secondary students perceive vocational education as primarily job-related, practical training as opposed to preparation for college. Instead, most students in these studies indicated that they planned to obtain additional education and many reported enrolling in a particular vocational course because they believed it would be helpful in preparing for college.
Members of special populations (e.g., academically and economically disadvantaged and learning disabled) are strongly represented in vocational programs ( Roegge & Flesher, 1995 ). In spite of this, results of their study indicate that 97% of their Chicago urban sample were vocational sequence completers (defined in their study as two consecutive vocational courses within a specific program).
According to Hammons-Bryner ( 1995 ), at-risk students do not always require isolated, special programs or stigmatizing labels. Unlike some schools in which background characteristics influence decisions about individual student placement ( Oakes, 1992 ), the major requirement for all students remains effective, connected teaching ( Hammons-Bryner, 1995 ). Many students are disheartened by school because they see no relationship between what they study in school and their outside lives ( Duttweiler & Shirley, 1993 ) or between academic performance and success in the workplace ( Oakes, 1987 ). The employment outlook for urban youth will continue to be limited unless educators can help students obtain an academic foundation designed to prepare them for meaningful employment and advanced levels of education. One way of assisting students in making the eventual transition into the workforce is to determine their perceptions toward the vocational courses in which they are enrolled.
Purposes and Objectives
This study assessed urban students' perceptions toward secondary T & I courses in order to provide information necessary to respond to learner needs. Current literature suggests a need to increase urban students' educational potential through school reform measures ( Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1988 ; Crain, Heebner & Si, 1992 ; U.S. Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, 1992 ). Student input can influence the curriculum ( McCutcheon, 1988 ) and, therefore, can contribute to the design and implementation of school reform measures. In turn this can contribute to the design and implementation of effective T & I courses that respond to learner needs and increase motivation, interest, and career awareness. While curriculum design issues extend beyond and are more complex than student perspectives, students provide valuable input into the curricular design process. Learners can serve as sources of information about the value and relevance of T & I courses.
Current literature suggests a relationship between student perceptions of the courses in which they are enrolled and students' viewpoints of the relevance of those courses to future employment ( McCracken & Barcinas, 1991 ; Oakes, 1992 ; Duttweiler, & Shirley, 1993 ). Consistent with current school reform trends, this study was designed to assist T & I educators in improving course offerings in urban secondary schools. The purposes of this study were to explore perceptions of urban T & I students and to empirically identify salient dimensions of perceptions about overall value of courses. Research objectives were to:
- Describe perceptions of secondary students in urban school settings toward T & I courses;
- Identify underlying dimensions that comprise perceptions of secondary students enrolled in T & I courses in urban school settings;
- Examine the influence of select variables on student perceptions toward T & I courses.
Population and Sample
The target population for this study included all secondary students enrolled in T & I courses in a large urban school district in the southeastern United States. The state in which this study was conducted delivers most T & I education instruction via the "cluster approach," with one occupational program preparing students for several jobs. For example, construction programs offer experience in carpentry, masonry, electrical, and plumbing trades. T & I programs currently include automotive technology, autobody, construction, cosmetology, drafting, electro-mechanical, graphic arts, health occupations, horticulture, metals, quantity foods, and mass communication (according to the Career Education Department of the state's public school system). A substantial number of these programs are industry-certified. Program certification ensures that quality standards set by industry experts are met. Students may enroll in these courses beginning in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade.
A purposive sampling of intact classes in four urban high schools was used in order to minimize disruption to students and ensure that a variety of courses was represented in the sample. The final research sample consisted of 284 students enrolled in T & I courses. Of the 284 questionnaires distributed, 232 were returned, representing a response rate of 81.6%. Incomplete questionnaires (26) were discarded, leaving a final research sample of 206 useable questionnaires (72.5% of the original distribution). Teachers distributed questionnaires to students enrolled in T & I classes (e.g., mass communication, graphic arts, and construction) throughout 9th-12th grades.
More female (53.7%) than male (46.3%) students were represented in the sample. A majority of the students was African American (98%), reflecting the general population of the urban school district. According to the school district's statistics office, 93% of the urban school district is African American. The largest percent of students (21.8%) was 11th graders. Almost one-third (28.6%) of the students were not sure if they were involved in a cooperative on-the-job training experience. It is possible that the term "cooperative on-the-job programs" used on the instrument was unfamiliar to students; therefore, students may simply have considered themselves enrolled in a course that provided work opportunities, rather than in a co-op program. Interestingly, over half of the participants in this study indicated that they had plans to attend either a two- or four-year college after high school. Table 1 summarizes these facets of subject characteristics as well as other demographic and work-related data from section 1 of the questionnaire.
A review of the literature was conducted to (a) assist in developing a two-part, self-report questionnaire to obtain descriptive information from students, and (b) determine their perceptions regarding the overall value of the courses in which they were enrolled. The first part, which provided a sample profile, asked students to supply demographic data and information about employment and future career plans. The second part of the questionnaire, which provided most of the data for this study, used a Likert-type scale (4 = strongly agree, 3 = agree, 2 = disagree, 1 = strongly disagree) to assess responses to statements related to overall value of the course. These 20 statements were revised after administration to 20 vocational students who provided feedback concerning statements that might be misinterpreted or unanswered. Content validity was established through a review process using a panel of five vocational educators ( Long, Convey, & Chwalek, 1985 ). A reliability coefficient Cronbach Alpha of .80 was obtained for the entire Likert-type scale. The questionnaire was developed in the early stages of a series of studies focusing on vocational course perceptions of urban students ( Ruff, 1993 ; Womble, Jones, & Ruff, 1995 ).
A list of secondary schools in a large urban district in the southeastern U.S. was obtained from the state's department of education and used to select schools. T & I content areas (courses) identified were auto mechanics, construction, mass communications, graphic arts, health occupations, and food service. To ensure independence, questionnaires were distributed to and collected from all classes on the same day. Teachers instructed students to use as much time as they needed to respond to all of the questions and to complete only one questionnaire if they were enrolled in more than one T & I course. To eliminate student concerns related to teacher knowledge of responses, students were given envelopes to seal after they completed their questionnaires, thus ensuring confidentiality. In addition, students received oral and written examples of the Likert-type questions.
Table 1 Demographics and Related Characteristics of Students Enrolled in Trade and Industrial Courses in an Urban School Setting (n = 206)
Characteristic Percent Characteristic Percent
Gender: Grade Level: Male 46.3 9th 28.1 Female 53.7 10th 22.2 11th 31.5 Race: 12th 18.2 African American 98.0 Asian .5 Grades usually earned in
Caucasian .5 A's and B's 24.6 Hispanic 1.0 B's and C's 52.2 Native American 0 C's and D's 21.7 Other 0 D's and F's 1.5
Work-Related Characteristics Characteristic Percent Characteristic Percent
Employed: Involvement in a cooperative on-
the-job training experience:
Yes 29.9 No 70.1 Yes 21.4 No 50.0 Number of hours worked per week
reported by employed students (n = 61):
Not sure 28.6 10 or less 37.3 Where the most information
about careers was obtained:
11-20 22.0 21-30 20.3 Parents 18.4 31-40 13.6 T & I teachers 15.5 Over 40 6.8 Other teachers 11.7 Job sources reported by students enrolled
in trade & industrial courses:
Other adults 13.1 Friends 1.5 T & I teacher 9.7 Guidance counselor 14.6 School counselor 3.2 School career center 3.4 Friends or family 56.5 Books 3.9 Newspaper 1.6 Magazines, newspapers, or television 6.8 Other 29.0 Other 4.9
Immediate plans upon graduation from high school: Work full-time 13.7 Attend a two-year college or vocational school 12.1 Attend a fouir-year college or university 44.7 Work full-time and attend school part-time 2.1 Military 7.4 Undecided 14.7 Other 5.3 Career objective (What job (occupational category) would you like to have ten years from now? Executive, admin., managerial, admin. support, clerical, & computers 9.0 Health (diagnosing, assessment, treating, technologists, technicians) 23.0 Professional Speciality (Engineering) 7.0 Technologists (except health) 4.5 Food, Beverage Preparation and Service 3.5 Service (protective, military, personal, food, building and grounds) 6.0 Mechanic, Installer, Repairer 2.0 Specialty-Athlete 4.5 Undecided 17.1 Most important reason for enrolling in the current trade & industrial course: Thought it would help me get a good job after high school 16.5 Thought it would help me in college 7.3 Liked the teacher 5.8 Thought it would be easy to pass or get a good grade 7.3 Needed the credits and nothing else was available or appealing 6.8 Friend recommended it to me 1.5 Guidance counselor recommended it to me 8.3 Out of school early by enrolling in an on-the-job training experience 1.0 Interested in the subject 38.8 Other 2.4 Educational level of parents: Mothers Fathers Did not finish high school 15.5 13.5 High school graduate 35.5 30.6 Two-year college graduate or some college 2.2 13.6 Four-year college graduate 14.0 13.5 Not sure 13.0 28.8
*Note: Totals may not equal 100% due to missing data or rounding error.
Both descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyze the data. Factor analysis was used to identify latent dimensions underlying the 20 statements that measured student perceptions. The scree plot and the number of eigen values greater than one were used to determine the number of factors underlying item responses. The factor structure was required to approximate simple structure; items were required to load at least .30 on one factor, while demonstrating low loadings on any additional factors. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was utilized to determine if significant differences existed between or among select demographic and background variables on identified dimensions of student perceptions. A .05 level of significance was established for all analytic procedures. All statistical analyses were performed using SPSS software (Release 4.0).
The primary purpose of this study was to explore perceptions of urban students toward their T & I courses. The sample consisted of students enrolled in T & I courses in one large urban school district. Many students in the sample were freshmen or sophomores with limited work experience. Therefore, caution should be taken in generalizing results of this study to larger populations of urban youth. Report of results begins with student perceptions and includes the influence and comparison of select variables.
The first research objective was to describe perceptions of students toward the value of the T & I courses in which they were enrolled. On the 4-point Likert scale (4 = strongly agree; 1 = strongly disagree), students were more likely to agree with the statements related to perceptions of courses than to disagree (see Table 2 ). Although mean responses to items did not vary greatly, the highest mean ratings were associated with statements related to the ability of the course to prepare students for employment ( M = 3.23). The lowest mean rating was associated with the course's ability to prepare students to relate to a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds in the workplace ( M = 2.82) and the usefulness of the course in teaching effective written and oral communication ( M = 2.82).
Factors Identified in Student Perceptions
The second objective was to identify underlying dimensions that comprise perceptions of secondary students enrolled in T & I courses in urban settings. Exploratory principle axes factor analysis with varimax rotation was used to identify latent factors underlying students' perceptions of the value of their T & I courses. Based on the scree plot and the number of eigen values greater than one, a two-factor solution was selected. Factor one, Educational Value of Course , explained 26 percent of the total variance. Fourteen items related to students' perceptions of the utility of the course loaded above .30 on factor one. Eight of the items asked for perceptions directly pertinent to the value of the course with respect to future careers or educational opportunities (e.g., "The course prepared me for employment."). Four items asked about more general aspects of the course's value (e.g., "The course teaches me to solve problems and make effective decisions."). Finally, two items asked about students' opinions of the value of the assignments and their willingness to recommend the course to others.
Factor two, Personal Relevance of the Course , consisted of six items and accounted for 6.2 percent of the total variance. Items loading on factor two were related to how students personally value and describe the T & I courses (e.g., "The course is a waste of time for me."). See Table 3 for factor loadings.
Influence and Comparison of Select Variables
The final research objective was to examine the relationship between select variables and student perceptions, including gender, grade level, educational level of parents, and post-graduation plans. Two composites were formed on the basis of the factor-analytic results; items loading on the first factor were summed to create the variable, Educational Value of Course , and items loading on the second factor were summed to create the variable, Personal Relevance of the Course . These composite variables were then used as dependent variables in the ANOVAs. Table 4 contains the results of the ANOVAs, and Table 5 contains the mean scores on the factors for the independent variables where statistical significance was found.
Table 2 Perceptions of Students
Item Statment Mean SD
1 1 The course prepares me for employment. 3.23 .62 2 15 My teacher does not have sufficient knowledge
of trade and industrial jobs and careers.*
3.18 .84 3 11 The course is a waste of time for me.* 3.15 .86 4 3 The course informs me of where to get more
education after high school.
3.14 .64 5 12 I am glad I enrolled in the course. 3.11 .83 6 9 The course improves my ability to get along with
other people, especially in the work place.
3.08 .64 7 4 I like the types of projects and assignments we do
in the course.
3.08 .68 8 19 My interest in a trade and industrial career has
increased since I have been in the course.
3.02 .66 9 10 The course prepares me to make good career choices. 3.00 .60 10 17 The course is boring.* 3.00 .77 11 18 The course is the type of course I would recommend
to my friends.
2.96 .64 12 2 The course prepares me for education after high school. 2.95 .67 13 16 The projects and assignments required in the
course a challenging for me.
2.91 .64 14 6 The course teaches me to solve problems and
make effective decisions.
2.88 .61 15 5 The information presented in the course is out of
touch with the "real world."
2.88 .82 16 14 The course in my school is just as beneficial to me
as the academic courses (such as English, math,
history, etc.) that are required of all students.
2.87 .69 17 13 Other elective courses (e.g., art, chorus, marketing,
etc.) are more beneficial to me than the course.*
2.87 .73 18 8 The course teaches me math skills needed by
workers in the work world.
2.83 .66 19 20 The course prepares me to effectively relate to
people of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds
in the workplace.
2.82 .69 20 7 The course teaches me how to communicate
effectiveley ( including both speaking and writing ).
*Note: Statements 4, 11, 13, 15, and 17 were recorded to reflect positive responses.
Scoring Scale: 4=Strongly Agree; 3 = Agree; 2 = Disagree; 1=Strongly Disagree.
Table 3 Factor Loadings by Varimax Rotation for Perceptions of
Urban Students Enrolled in Trade and Industrial Education Courses
10 .651 - .44 19 .616 - .45 2 .571 - .34 6 .555 - .31 20 .554 - .33 18 .554 - .37 1 .527 - .36 7 .520 - .27 9 .512 - .41 4 .473 - .36 16 .425 - .19 3 .415 - .22 8 .387 - .15 14 .384 - .18 11 - .754 .57 12 - .606 .44 15 - .604 .37 17 - .481 .33 5 - .380 .15 13 - .378 .21 Eigen value 5.20 1.24 6.44 % of total
26.0 6.2 32.2 % of trace
80.7 19.3 100%
Only questions of loading > .30 were considered
( ) = squares of factor loading
Students' reasons for taking the course were associated with significant differences on their ratings of the Educational Value of the Course, F (8,174) = 2.77, p <.05. Students who enrolled in the course because they thought it would help them with future educational or career plans or because they were interested in the subject had higher perceptions of the educational value of the course than students with other reasons for taking the course. Although the mean perception of the Educational Value of the Course was relatively high for students who took the course based on a recommendation, the small number of students who took the course for that reason precludes meaningful comparisons with the perceptions of students who took the course for other reasons.
Table 4 Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) for Student Perceptions
Independent Variable df F-Value Educational
Gender 1 .93 .26 Grade Level 3 2.41 1.24 Completed other T & I courses 2 .30 .33 Post-graduation plans 4 .93 8.59* Grades usually earned in school 2 .70 .53 Currently employed 1 1.29 .73 Hours worked per week 3 .44 1.57 Involvement in cooperative training 2 .48 .30 Current job source 7 .96 1.74 Reason for taking course 8 2.77* 2.68* Educational level of mother 4 2.08 4.31** Educational level of father 4 1.33 3.42**
* p < .05; ** p < .01
Table 5 Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) for Student Perceptions
Independent Variables Factor 1
Post graduation plans: 1. Work full-time - 17.65 2. Attend a two-Year college or vocational school - 18.00 3. Attend a four-year college or university - 19.22 4. Work full-time and attend school part-time - 18.00 5. Military - 19.93 6. Undecided - 16.32 7. Other - 14.40 Reason for taking course: 1. Thought it would help get me a good
job after high school.
42.71 17.94 2. Thought it would help me in college. 44.07 19.87 3. Liked the teacher. 40.00 17.83 4.Thought it would be easy to pass or get a
39.07 15.64 5. Needed the credits and nothing else was
available or appealing.
42.67 18.67 6. Friend recommended it to me. 38.65 17.18 7. Guidance Counselor recommended it to me. 41.50 16.50 8. Wanted to get out of school early by enrolling
in an internship/on-the-job training
42.16 19.01 9. Interested in the subject. 34.67 16.50 Educational level of mother: 1. Did not finish high school - 18.35 2. High school graduate - 17.54 3. Two-year college graduate or some college - 19.35 4. Four-year college graduate - 18.64 5. Not sure - 16.20 Educational level of father: 1. Did not finish high school - 18.13 2. High school graduate - 18.38 3. Two-year college graduate or some college - 18.09 4.Four-year college gradute - 19.35 4.Not sure - 16.56
M = Mean response on dependent composite variables.
Post-graduation plans were associated with significant mean differences in the Personal Relevance of the Course, F (4,183) = 8.59, p < .01. Students who planned to attend a four-year college or university or who planned to enter the military rated the Personal Relevance of the Course higher than those who were undecided or who had other career plans. Reasons for taking the course were also associated with significant differences in the Personal Relevance of the Course, F (8,174) = 2.68, p < .05. Students who thought the course would help in college and who were interested in the subject rated the personal relevance of the course higher than students who merely needed to fill credits.
The educational level of the mother, F (4,192) = 4.31, p <.01, and father, F (4,164) = 3.42, p < .01, were related to the Personal Relevance of the Course. Those students whose mothers were two-year graduates or had some college education rated the Personal Relevance of the Course higher than students who were unsure of their mother's educational level. Students whose fathers were four-year college graduates indicated that the Personal Relevance of the Course was greater for them than those who were unsure of their father's educational background.
This exploratory study examined the perceptions of urban students regarding the value of T & I courses. Students' perceptions can be summarized in two factors, Educational Value of Course and Personal Relevance of Course. Items measuring the extent to which the courses prepare students for employment and provide them with information concerning future employment comprised Factor 1. Items measuring students' perceptions about the relevance of T & I courses to their personal lives comprised Factor 2. Perceptions of the value of other vocational courses were similarly summarized in previous research ( Ruff, 1993 ; Womble, Ruff, & Jones, 1995 ). Results suggested that students' perceptions of T & I courses differed depending on their immediate plans upon graduation, reason for taking the course, and educational level of their parents. Findings related to both of the identified factors are discussed below.
Educational Value of Course
The statement, "The course prepares me for employment," received the highest mean score ( M = 3.23). This indicates that students had positive perceptions about the value of their T & I courses in terms of preparation for future jobs. The high mean score for the statement, "My teacher does not have sufficient knowledge of T & I jobs and careers" ( M = 3.18) (which was recorded to reflect a positive response), also suggests that these students view their teachers as prepared to provide career information in the T & I areas. In spite of the positive view of T & I teachers and courses, students in this study also believed their parents were more helpful in providing career information than any other source. While T & I teachers were ranked second, students apparently obtain more career information from sources outside the school.
In addition, 17.1% of students indicated being undecided about a future career or college major. While these results could be due to the fact that approximately half of the students were freshmen or sophomores, these findings support the view that career counseling for urban students should be given increased consideration in school programs ( Winborne & Dardaine-Ragguet, 1993 ). Similarly, T & I teachers may wish to devote more time to career exploration and decision-making activities.
Vocational education has been criticized for overemphasizing job skills, consequently contributing to a workforce that is unable to read, write, or compute. In response to these challenges, some academic and vocational teachers have decided to collaborate in their efforts to improve basic academic skills and strengthen workplaces ( Haynes, 1994 ). Findings of this study support the need for this type of cooperation between academic and T & I teachers in the integration of academic and vocational instruction. For example, the mean score of 2.82 on statement 20 ("The course teaches me how to communicate effectively.") falls between agree and disagree; however, it is the lowest mean of the item statements. Significant numbers of the students queried in the current study also did not agree that their T & I courses teach them communication skills needed by workers. Although the findings are similar regarding mathematics ( M = 2.83), the level of agreement was somewhat higher for problem-solving and decision-making ( M = 2.88). Low perceptions about the extent to which vocational courses teach mathematics skills needed in the workplace were also found in previous research ( Ruff, 1993 ; Womble, Ruff, & Jones, 1995 ). These findings suggest that T & I teachers should employ more strategies for integrating mathematics, language, and basic skills in their course work. For example, concepts of logic and probability can be taught while reinforcing basic mathematics skills and statistics in many T & I courses ( Miles, 1994 ).
Multicultural education has, in recent years, become an important focus for teachers, teacher educators, and administrators. One emphasis of multicultural education involves preparation for the workforce. Since the workplace is expected to become more diverse, students must be prepared to effectively relate to people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Except for the statement related to communication, students in this study agreed least often with the statement which dealt with preparation to effectively relate with people of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds in the workplace ( M = 2.82). This finding suggests a need for additional focus on not only multicultural education in preparation for transition into the workplace, but also on communication skills related to working with and respecting others. T & I teacher preparation programs should incorporate literature and materials into their classes related to diversity in the workplace.
The statement, "The course is a waste of time for me" ( M = 3.15) (which was recorded to reflect a positive response), indicates that these students do see value in their T & I courses. These results agree with a study by Rojewski and Sheng ( 1993 ) who studied students' perceptions toward secondary vocational education. They also found that students had positive perceptions toward the value of vocational education.
Mean perceptions of the educational value of T & I courses were related to students' reasons for taking the courses. A connection was detected between Factor 1, Educational Value of Course , and the independent variable, reason for taking course. Many students in this study reported having high perceptions toward T & I courses. The reason for enrolling reported by the greatest percentage of students (38.8%) was that they were interested in the subject. The second highest percentage of students (16.5%) reported they thought the course would help them get a good job after high school. These results agree with major concepts students felt they needed in order to be successful in a study by Dillon and Mercer ( 1994 ). The concepts included: (a) economic growth and occupational outlook, (b) academic and occupational choices, (c) real-life applicable choices, and (d) keeping up with technology. Students appear to recognize the need to be prepared for future employment.
Personal Relevance of Course
Post-graduation plans of students appeared to influence their perceptions of the Personal Relevance of Course factor. Students who indicated plans to attend a four-year college or university agreed more strongly with statements on this factor than did students who indicated plans to work full-time, attend a two-year institution, enter the military, or indicated that they were undecided; 56.8% of students indicated plans to pursue some form of further study (two-year, vocational, or four-year college). The findings suggest that students with college aspirations perceived a connection between their T & I courses and their future plans. This information provides an opportunity for T & I educators to use their courses to encourage and support urban students' interests in further study. T & I courses could serve as a means of generating student interest in additional study in the trades as well as in other career areas.
Mean perceptions of the personal relevance of the course differed among students who reported differences in the educational levels of their parents. Students whose mothers had two years of college, or whose mothers were four-year college graduates, were more positive about the personal relevance of their T & I courses than were students whose mothers were high school graduates or who did not know the educational level of their mother. Likewise, students whose fathers were four-year graduates were more positive about the personal relevance of the courses than were students whose fathers did not complete high school. These results support the connection between the educational level of parents and their children's perceptions toward school ( Benjamin, 1993 ). Since over one-fourth of the students in this study were unsure of their father's educational level, some of these students may have been raised in homes where the mother was the primary caregiver. Although T & I educators have no influence over the educational levels of students' parents, involving parents in the educational process of their children may be beneficial to students, parents, and schools. For example, a study by McCracken and Barcinas ( 1991 ) revealed that 74% of urban parents expected their children to further their education beyond high school. Since students in this study also indicated that their parents were the most frequent source of information about careers, increased levels of parental involvement could enhance the quality of T & I students' educational preparation.
This study represents one exploratory approach to attempt to clarify the function and value of T & I courses in the urban high school environment. Findings of this study provide a better understanding of the characteristics of students enrolled in T & I courses in urban school settings. In general, students in this study indicated that they had career plans, expected to continue their education, made good grades, and valued their T & I courses. Additional information about how to improve the overall value of T & I courses and, thus, the preparation of urban youth for employment, could be gained through similar studies in other urban school districts.
Jones is Associate Professor, Womble is Assistant Professor, and Searcy is a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.
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