JVER v25n3 - Toward a More Unified Education: Academic and Vocational Integration in Illinois Community Colleges

Volume 25, Number 3

Toward a More Unified Education: Academic and Vocational Integration in Illinois Community Colleges

Debra D. Bragg
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
William M. Reger IV
Illinois State University


Closing the gap between academic and vocational education has required the creation of new public policy, but evidence of real and meaningful changes in curriculum and instruction are sometimes scarce, especially at the postsecondary level. This article reports findings from a mixed-method study soliciting information from all the community colleges in the state of Illinois by utilizing a survey, document review, and in-depth telephone interviews with selected informants. Results show that academic and vocational integration takes many forms, but applied academics is most prominent within community colleges. More advanced approaches associated with multidisciplinary courses, linked or cluster courses, and learning communities are much less evident. Barriers to integration are pervasive, and they are often linked to the long-standing separation of vocational from academic education. Even so, pockets of integration are apparent in the Illinois community college system, encouraging the Illinois Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration to recommend greater support for the concept.


Legislation enacted during the 1990s encouraged curriculum and instruction at the secondary and two-year postsecondary levels to better integrate academic and vocational education. The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act Amendments of 1990 and 1998 presented academic and vocational integration prominently. Tech prep programs authorized under Perkins usually emphasized academic and vocational integration as a core component. In addition, the School-To-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 encouraged the creation of more systemic education linked to career preparation, describing academic and vocational integration as a preferred reform strategy. Viewing the phenomenon of academic and vocational integration through the lens of the Illinois Community College System, the third largest community college system in the United States ( Phillippe, 2000 ), this study sought to describe models and approaches of academic and occupational integration, including identifying how academic and occupational integration was being implemented in Illinois' community colleges. Barriers to implementation of more advanced integration models and approaches were also explored.

This article presents the evolving secondary education context that helped to shape academic and vocational integration at the postsecondary level. How community colleges have engaged in academic and vocational (or occupational) integration is described, along with a brief explanation of the role of the Illinois Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration. Results are presented relative to the predominant models of academic and vocational integration found in the literature, and implications for policy and practice conclude the article.


The need for integrating academic and vocational education arises not only out of the complex issues facing American public education amid present-day economic changes, but also out of the philosophical and legislative debates of the past. Though educational philosopher John Dewey argued for "education through occupations" rather than "education for occupations," ( Grubb, 1997, p. 77 ), the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, following a German model, divorced vocational from academic education with serious consequences. The predominant intent of the Smith-Hughes Act was to promote secondary vocational education, especially in agriculture, industry, and the trades, by forcing state boards of education through funding incentives to create separate vocational programs in public schools. The two separate strands of education have remained within the curriculum of comprehensive high schools throughout the 20th Century ( Wirth, 1992 ).

In fact, the division between academic and vocational education was perhaps strengthened by an underlying assumption that liberal education was not naturally combined with vocational education for the improvement of life. Historically, the role of a university-based education in Western culture was to prepare noble courtiers to govern and command the nations and armies of Europe. Vocational education, on the other hand, rose among the practicing guilds and in special technical academies that trained engineers and artillerists in their trades ( Hale, 1983 ; Majeski, 1982 ); those who pursued it usually had little to do with the university. This long-standing belief about the role of vocational education in occupational preparation existed for centuries. However, after World War II, the President's Commission on Higher Education ( 1947 ), more commonly known as the Truman Commission, recognized that these different origins contributed to a denigration of vocational education. The Commission argued that this misconception should be overcome because a democracy requires a unified education that can develop the capacity of all students to make a living and build a life. Attributed with popularizing the modern-day terminology for the community college , the Truman Commission was an early advocate for integration of academic and vocational education.

It is urgently important in American education today that the age-old distinction between education for living and education for making a living be discarded. Making a living is a function of the citizen and being a citizen is a function of the worker. ( pp. 61-62 )

Even though the Truman Commission provided the template for community college education overall, it's support of a more unified education had little effect on federal legislation that maintained the historic distinction between academic and vocational education. Indeed, federal legislation such as the Vocational Education Act of 1963 perpetuated the separation of academic and vocational education. Some educational leaders of the 1960s and 1970s, including those involved in vocational education, argued for more integration of academic and vocational education, yet changes in legislation were not forthcoming for nearly three decades ( Bragg, 1995 ).

Twenty years after passage of the Vocational Education Act of 1963, the National Commission on Excellence in Education ( 1983 ), in A Nation at Risk , declared that the failures of public education, deriving in part from the weakening of the public school curriculum, demanded a return to basic academic foundations, to the almost total neglect of vocational education ( Frantz, Strickland, & Elson, 1987 ). Claiming that public schools would be improved by focusing nearly entirely on traditional academics, A Nation at Risk and subsequent school reforms advocated a diminished role for vocational education in the comprehensive high school. The Office of Vocational and Adult Education, U.S. Department of Education countered with a strong statement in support of vocational education emanating from the National Center for Research in Vocational Education at The Ohio State University. This report, title The Unfinished Agenda ( National Commission on Secondary Vocational Education, 1984 ), recommended that students receive a "balanced mix of academic and vocational experience in their high school curriculum" ( p. 12 ). Lacking the political clout of A Nation at Risk , recommendations from The Unfinished Agenda had limited impact in the short term. Over the long term they became central to federal vocational legislation of the 1990s, including concepts that developed into subsequent reforms such as tech prep.

During the decade of the 1990s, federal laws governing vocational education made a deliberate attempt to enhance the relationship between academic and vocational education, calling for integration of academic and vocational education, applied academics, and tech prep. The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act Amendments of 1990 demonstrated a strong federal role in creating broad-based, efficacious general education that did not sacrifice vocational education to the demands of the traditional academic disciplines, but built bridges between them. One intent of the federal legislation of the 1990s was to raise academic standards for all students, including those engaged in vocational course work ( Hershey, Silverberg, Owens, & Hulsey, 1998 ), by requiring the integration of academic and vocational education through coherent sequences of courses designed to enhance student competencies for postsecondary education and work.

Tech prep was introduced within the 1990 Perkins bill to promote stronger linkages between secondary and postsecondary education and integrate academic and vocational curricula through the use of applied academics and contextual learning. Moreover, when federal vocational legislation was reauthorized in 1998, renewed emphasis was placed on academic and vocational integration. Through tech prep, this newest federal policy directive calls for integrated curriculum including a common core of math, science, reading, writing, communications, and technologies. The legislation further reinforces curriculum integration through the professional development of teachers, especially postsecondary faculty, in the use of contextual learning and applied curriculum and instruction ( Bragg et al., 1999 ).

This recent policy shift to integrate academic and vocational education has been heralded as a significant correction to the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 and the cultural assumptions that supported it. Rosenstock ( 1991 ) noted that "the act is an important step in redirecting vocational education and, ultimately, in restructuring our high schools for the twenty-first century" ( p. 434 ). Wirth ( 1992 ) concurred,

The curricular structure that characterized vocational education for the past seventy-five years no longer fits. [New] vocational and academic education should be broadly integrated; vocational education should move from narrow, occupationally specified, skill-based training to instruction in 'all aspects of an industry;' [and] should forge strong links with economic development efforts in a community. ( p. 168 )

Consistent with this recommendation, vocational programs of the 1990s emphasized curriculum integration and tech prep, and these ideas were widely recognized as complimentary. Moreover, Ascher and Flaxman ( 1993 ) pointed out that the shared philosophies of curriculum integration and tech prep had a great deal to offer contemporary school reforms. They noted that curriculum integration, tech prep, and other reforms were committed to common goals, specifically

to professionalize teaching; to make pedagogy more active, student-centered, and contextual (rather than didactic and teacher-centered, as is more common); to replace standardized testing with authentic assessments; and to restructure large secondary schools into smaller units with greater curricular integrity. ( p. 6 )

Consistent with efforts by the federal Office of Vocational and Adult Education during the 1990s, Ascher and Flaxman called for increased connections between academic and vocational integration and complementary reform strategies occurring in present-day K-12 education.

Integration within Community Colleges

Focusing on the postsecondary level, some community-college constituencies welcomed new curricular models such as tech prep that deliberately link high schools and community colleges (see, for example, Parnell, 1985 ), but others have been slow to adopt. Critical of the lack of change in community colleges, Grubb, Badway, Bell, and Kraskoukas ( 1996 ) argued that initially community colleges made little progress with federally-funded reforms such as academic and vocational integration and tech prep. By implementing reforms authorized by the 1990 and 1998 federal vocational education amendments, community colleges would be carrying forward the goals of not only the Truman Commission, but also a more recent Commission on the Future of Community Colleges ( 1988 ) that issued a strong recommendation for academic and vocational integration by stating that, "only by placing emphasis on both can all students help in the building of community" ( p. 20 ).

No doubt community colleges have been affected by these new legislative and philosophical foci, just as they have been impacted by economic and demographic forces demanding continued change to meet the needs of students, faculty, and surrounding communities. Prominent forces acting on postsecondary education include (a) the increased number of students who have a wide diversity of learning needs ( Rendon, 1994 ), (b) the increased fragmentation and rigidity of the academic disciplines ( Mourad, 1997 ), (c) the inability of students to integrate academic subject matter into day-to-day living ( Grubb et al., 1996 ), and (d) the fast-paced changes occurring in the workplace that demand reforms to occupational education ( Bailey, 1995 ).

Curriculum integration has been, among policy makers and educational experts, one recommended response to these many forces on community colleges as a means to improve the quality of education. The integration of academic and vocational education has been advocated because of its ability to prepare learners to adjust to and succeed in the modern workplace, characterized by technological advancements, globalization, and increased diversity ( Bailey, 1995 ). Badway and Grubb ( 1997 ) contend that academic and vocational integration can improve what and how students learn regardless of their curriculum or major, by broadening occupational education and strengthening its connection to civic goals when it includes "citizenship issues such as public policies toward technology and employment" or "the evolution of American work ethic" ( p. 12 ). Such a fundamental purpose for education is pertinent to all students whether their intention is to continue their education or enter the workforce. The Commission on the Future of Community Colleges ( 1988 ) agreed, arguing persuasively that community colleges should stop isolating academic and occupational education because this separation hurts students who have difficulty transferring what they know from one discipline to another. Not providing for these learning needs may disillusion students, heightening retention problems that already exist in many colleges ( Tinto, 1996 ).

Though arguments for academic and vocational integration are evident in contemporary literature, little empirical evidence exists to support the claims. To establish clear benefits of integration requires further investigation. Even before assessment, it is necessary to describe the extent to which the phenomenon exists, to describe its status, scope, and scale. To address this problem, a group of educators representing community colleges, state agencies, and universities in Illinois formed the Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration to study the implementation of integration in Illinois' community colleges.

Illinois Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration

Referred to by the Task Force as occupational education rather than vocational education because of a preference for the term occupational over vocational and its predominant use throughout the System, the Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration sought to discover what models and approaches to academic and occupational integration were employed by Illinois' community colleges. This group was actually an outgrowth of an earlier initiative designed to enhance tech prep implementation through the awarding of demonstration grants to seven Illinois community colleges. Prior to that time, tech prep was viewed as primarily a secondary reform, without a great deal of clarity about the role of community colleges beyond enhanced recruitment of high school students. Concern about the lack of attention placed on tech prep by community colleges brought about a special grant opportunity for community colleges to enhance tech prep implementation. Therefore, starting in 1994, seven community colleges were awarded supplementary grants encouraging them to focus on tech prep implementation, often focusing on faculty development on contextual learning, applied academics, and other strategies to enhance academic and occupational integration. Progress with integration of academic and occupational education was stimulated using the tech prep demonstration grants, but primarily only within the colleges that received the grants. If the ideas were to spread farther, a more broad-based initiative was needed. Hence, the Illinois Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration was formed in 1996.

Believing implementation would be enhanced through the involvement of numerous stakeholder representatives, the Task Force was comprised of thirteen individuals representing eight Illinois community colleges, the Illinois Community College Board, the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Council for Occupational Education, and the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The purpose of the Task Force was to clarify what academic and occupational integration is and what it could be, to examine how Illinois community colleges developed and implemented curriculum integration, and to consider more extensive and deeper efforts at integration in the future. The Task Force also sought to identify preferred methods of curriculum integration at community colleges in Illinois and across the nation.

Beginning its work with a review of the literature, the Task Force sought information about the implementation of several academic and occupational integration models, finding earlier research by Grubb and Kraskouskas ( 1992 ) particularly applicable. Building on these ideas and other studies of integration, the Task Force ultimately specified seven models for investigation, as shown in Table 1. These models ranged from simpler forms of integration, such as applied academics courses, to more complex and multi-faceted approaches, such as learning communities and work-based learning.

Table 1
Academic and Occupational Integration Models Defined

Model Definition
Applied academics courses Conventional academics courses are infused with applications from occupational programs, but are not accepted for transfer ( Pedrotti & Parks, 1991 ).
Applied academics
courses for transfer
Conventional academic courses are infused with applications from occupational programs and are accepted for transfer ( Illinois Task Force on Integration, 1997 ).
Linked courses Linked academic and occupational courses represent a more advanced form of curriculum integration and a rudimentary approach to learning communities ( Matthews, Smith, MacGregor, & Gabelnick, 1997 ). Linked courses (also referred to as tandem courses or courses clusters if more than two courses are involved) are taken concurrently by a cohort of students during an academic term, allowing for the integration of academic and occupational subjects on a broader scale. Linked courses may be team taught, providing an added dimension of integration.
The application of several different academic disciplines--history, ethics, literature, philosophy-- to technological developments, working and its consequences, and other employment-related issues. The goal is to examine a particular question, problem, or issue from diverse perspectives to create a "new, single, intellectually coherent entity" ( Gaff & Ratcliff, 1996 ).
Learning communities Tandem courses and clusters of courses can become larger groupings, referred to as learning communities. In this model, any number of disciplines can be linked including conventional academic and occupational courses. According to Schaad ( 1997 ), "learning communities have two common features: a) they link classes together and build relationships between subject matter to provide coherence for students, and b) they build both academic and social community for students and faculty by enrolling them together in a large block of course work" ( p.5 ). Social functions are deliberately planned to enhance the interpersonal relationships among students and between students and faculty.
Integration through
learning technologies
This model is the least clearly specified, but the following definition provides a place to start: The deliberate use of distance learning, computers hardware and software, the internet, and other emerging learning technologies to integrate academic and occupational subject matter in ways previously inimaginable ( Illinois Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration, 1997 ). This model encourages use of the Internet and the World Wide Web to link information and resources that would ordinarily not be found together in one course, either academic or occupational.
Work-based learning Occupational programs that require or encourage students to participate in a work-related learning experience as a means of engaging students in application of academic and occupational knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Examples of this model include internships, cooperative education, and professional/clinical experiences used to connect the academic environment with the world of work ( Bragg, Hamm, & Trinkle, 1995 ).

The Purpose of the Study

Within the state of Illinois, the Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration sought to identify models and approaches to academic and occupational integration that were being employed by community colleges. Overall, the group desired to answer two fundamental questions: a) what is the nature of integration of academic and occupational education, and b) how is academic and occupational integration being implemented in Illinois' community colleges? This article addresses these descriptive questions, utilizing results obtained from a mixed-method study involving the state of Illinois community college system, the third largest state system of community colleges in the United States ( Phillippe, 2000 ).


A mixed-method study ( Creswell, 1994 ) was conducted utilizing a census survey, document review, and personal interview as the primary data collection methods. The mixed- method approach was chosen because it provided for the acquisition of information in alternative ways that would deepen understanding of the phenomenon. The mixed-method approach facilitated collaboration with the Task Force by actively engaging them in stages of the research process. Creswell refers to mixed-methods designs as offering the highest degree of complimentarily between qualitative and quantitative methods, since this approach "uses the advantages of both the qualitative and quantitative paradigms" ( p. 178 ). The questionnaire initiated the mixed-method research process, soliciting information from questions developed by the Task Force about local implementation of academic and occupational integration models. At the same time the survey was completed, copies of documentation regarding these practices was solicited for review by a research team involving university personnel and selected Task Force members. Once documents were analyzed, a purposive sample was drawn for in-depth telephone interviews to obtain additional insights into local integration practices.


A brief, two-page questionnaire was designed in association with the Task Force, based on earlier research completed primarily by Grubb and Kraskouskas ( 1992 ) and Badway and Grubb ( 1997 ). An item focusing on the use of computer and Internet technology to enhance academic and occupational integration was added, as recommended by the Task Force. The brief paper-pencil survey was delivered either in person or by mail or fax to one key respondent at each of the 49 community colleges in Illinois, with a cover letter explaining the purpose and importance of the study. Individuals identified to complete the survey were typically the community colleges' lead administrators for management of occupational education and Perkins funding. In all cases, individuals asked to complete the survey were recognized widely by personnel at the institution and by the state as knowledgeable about the particular college's occupational curriculum, including the integration of academic and occupational education. The questionnaire was brief, offering a concise definition of each of the seven models under investigation and asking respondents to indicate whether or not their community colleges were implementing them. When a model was affirmed, respondents were asked to give a brief description of what was occurring. Response rate for the initial administration of the questionnaire was 71%, but increased to 96% when the instrument was distributed a second time, approximately four weeks later. Most of the 47 respondents were community-college deans or vice presidents, and only a few were presidents.

Document Analysis

In addition to written comments, respondents sent documents along with returned surveys, describing academic and occupational integration models and strategies being implemented on their campuses. These documents included institutional and program-level plans, curriculum guides, brochures, course syllabi, and other course descriptions. Content analysis was conducted according to procedures described by Gall, Borg and Gall ( 1996 ) in that categories representing a discrete aspect of integration were utilized for coding purposes. These coding categories reflected major goals, definitions, policies, and practices associated with the phenomenon. Several categories were identified from the literature prior to executing the content analysis; however, some categories were emergent. Also as the analysis continued, some of the original coding categories were refined. Computer files were generated that reflected these coding categories, and information gleaned from the documents was entered into them. Frequency counts reflecting the occurrence of each coding category were conducted subsequently. Finally, results from this phase of the study were summarized to provide a clearer understanding of academic and occupational integration in Illinois' community colleges. Results were also used to frame personal interview questions with selected college representatives.

Telephone Interviews

To gain an even greater understanding of various dimensions of implementation of academic and occupational integration in Illinois' community colleges, a telephone interview was conducted with a purposive sample of individuals from 20 community colleges, selected based on the extent to which one or more of the more integration models was implemented. This sample was thought to provide needed information regarding institutional and program-level implementation processes, including potential factors that contributed to progression toward more advanced implementation. Two individuals from the Task Force, one Illinois Community College Board staff member or one Illinois State Board of Education staff member, and three representatives from the Office of Community College Research and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign conducted the interviews. Training was provided for these individuals, including specific instructions and materials to carry out the telephone interviews, including a standard interview protocol.

Questions provided in the protocol explored the nature of each college's implementation of academic and occupational integration in greater detail than could be obtained via a written survey or document analysis. Interviewers were encouraged to review results of the questionnaire and document analysis with the college contact person before beginning the interview, in order to confirm or correct information about the current practices of the college. In addition, the interviewers were encouraged to adhere to the standard questions provided on the protocol, but to include probing questions to elicit further detail. The interview was recorded and detailed notes of the respondent's comments were taken, from which a synthesis of major findings was created immediately following the interview. Interviewers reviewed their findings with other members of the interview team. If the interview was tape recorded, verbal permission from the interviewee was verified on the tape. The telephone interviews took from 20 to 45 minutes, averaging 30 minutes.

Similar to the processes of content analysis applied to documentation, content analysis was conducted on an individual interview basis to reflect institutional results and also on a cross-institutional basis, enhancing the possibility of identifying patterns of implementation of particular academic and occupational integration models within and across the Illinois community college system. Emergent themes were compared to those obtained from document analysis, to triangulate results using multiple data sources.

Findings and Discussion

In this section, findings are presented according to the seven integration models defined previously as highest priority to the Task Force. Within the discussion of each model, information concerning the implementation process that accompanied development is presented, both across and within particular community colleges in the state of Illinois.

Applied Academics Courses

Academic courses adapted to the interests of occupational students include conventional academic courses that contain applications from occupational programs, but which are not accepted for transfer to a four-year institution. A recent study called this model the "most common form of integration" and that it was typically "locally developed" ( Grubb et al., 1996, p. 6 ). In other words, the integrated curriculum is developed by community college faculty working among themselves to bridge the gap between academic and occupational education. Applied academics courses are also utilized in conjunction with tech prep programs, sometimes involving secondary teachers in the development process.

Of all 49 community colleges in Illinois, 38 indicated that they offered academic courses specifically tailored to occupational majors (students). Writing, math, and science were the predominant subjects integrated in this manner. Writing courses consisted primarily of business or technical writing, though some colleges offered more specific or advanced offerings such as Police Report Writing, Professional Written Communications, Technical Writing Internship, Writing for Desktop Publishing, and Advanced Technical Writing. Math courses dovetailed with occupational education programs in the areas of agriculture, industrial technology, health care, education, electronics, and business. Several science courses also matched the needs of occupational programs, with technical or industrial physics and anatomy and physiology courses predominating. Agriculture science courses such as Introduction to Animal Science and Introduction to Soils were also offered, but were reported much less frequently, partly because of the sporadic offering of agriculture curricula throughout the state system.

With few exceptions Illinois community colleges identified more math and science courses as applied academics courses than writing courses, possibly because math and science appeared more immediately applicable to technical content. Many of these courses were initiated within academic divisions, so occupational students were required to go outside their departments to take them. At a northern Illinois community college, the technical communications portion of the curriculum was developed by a technical writing professor in the English Department who worked with occupational faculty to develop a technical writing course.

Follow-up interviews with several administrators revealed that some occupational faculty dismissed the benefits of applied academics courses because they drew the student's time and attention away from occupational courses. Internal integration-meaning fusion of academic components or modules within occupational departments alone, as opposed to external integration through which occupational students go to academic departments to receive integrated courses-had not reached a high level of development in some community colleges, partly because occupational faculty had not made these kinds of academic courses a requirement.

Other observations were made by the surveyed administrators about the applied academics model, including some concerns. First, while applied academics courses were lauded for their applicability to specific occupations, most were not transferable. In fact, some applied academics courses were offered as developmental courses that did not provide college-level credit applicable to an associate in applied science (AAS) or other associate degree. Relatively few of the applied academics courses were offered through team teaching; in fact, less than a quarter of the community colleges surveyed did so. When team teaching was provided, a typical approach was for an academic instructor to participate in an occupational course, more than the reverse. For example, a math instructor co-taught in a health careers course with health faculty members. In another example, we found a Tech Writing/Electronics course at a downstate college where the English and Electronics professors taught both separately and together, emphasizing learning applicable to work.

Applied Academics Courses Designed for Transfer

An applied academics course designed to transfer is similar to the approach discussed above, with the important stipulation that the college credits are transferable to the four-year level, making it more valuable to occupational students who continue their education at colleges and universities awarding the baccalaureate degree. Such courses can be pivotal to tech prep and 2+2+2 curricula intended to support the matriculation of students from high school to community college and on to the four-year college or university level.

In practice, we found few applied academics transfer courses designed for occupational students. Only ten community colleges indicated implementation of such transfer courses, including primarily technical writing, advanced technical communications, and science courses related to health care programs. In a state that adopted transfer guarantees statewide over five years ago ( Bragg & Colwell, 1996 ), it is noteworthy that none of the colleges offered guarantees that applied academics courses would transfer and count toward the baccalaureate degree.

In an attempt to provide applied academics content through the core academic curriculum, thereby ensuring transfer opportunities, a few colleges designated sections of core courses such as Rhetoric 101 specifically for students enrolled in AAS programs. Often these arrangements were made in occupational areas where a high percentage of students were known to transfer from the two- to four-year level, including students engaged in tech prep programs. Since several community colleges reported that occupational majors transfer upon completion of their AAS degrees, providing academic courses that would meet transfer requirements was important to these institutions and their students.

In fact, the state's relatively new Illinois Articulation Initiative (IAI) may complicate the transferability of applied academics courses since transfer courses receiving IAI approval must pass the muster of state-level faculty committees that are often highly skeptical of courses deviating from traditional pedagogy. No doubt there are real benefits of statewide transferability of collegiate courses via IAI, including the possibility for an overall increase in higher education access and opportunity, IAI may also have a restraining effect on curriculum change. Only a small number of traditional transfer courses can meet the universal approval of state-level faculty committees, potentially reducing opportunities to modify curriculum to maintain a credible transfer function.

Linked Courses

Linked courses represent a more advanced form of curriculum integration and a rudimentary approach to learning communities ( Matthews, Smith, MacGregor, & Gagelnick, 1997 ). Linked courses (also referred to as tandem courses or course clusters if more than two courses are involved) are taken concurrently by a cohort of students during an academic term, allowing for the integration of academic and occupational subjects on a broader scale. Linked courses may be team taught, providing an added dimension of integration. With the addition of other faculty members, different perspectives toward content and various approaches to instructional practices are brought together, enhancing the integration of academic and occupational content. When course clusters are used, a sequence of courses and related practicum may be created. Clustered courses usually exhibit some natural relationship and can range from basic-level courses to advanced thematic presentations. As with any advanced integration model, difficulties include an increased need for joint faculty planning and increased social dysfunction and discipline problems among students, the latter being a barrier to even more advanced forms of the learning community model discussed below ( Grubb et al., 1996 ).

Eight Illinois community colleges reported using linked academic and occupational courses according to one of four patterns. First, linkages typically pair speech and communications courses with some sort of business or technical courses. Math and communications courses are also linked to the courses required by the Ford and General Motor's automotive programs, and these programs are also often designated as part of tech prep. A second and often more intimate linkage occurred in programs in which the students attended all linked courses as a group and in which faculty coordinated their efforts. One college's manufacturing program relied primarily on speech and communications as the academic component, but required three electives from social sciences, natural sciences, math and English composition, which broadened the academic base of the program. Another college reported some faculty coordination between linked courses in engineering and business programs.

A third pattern of linked courses involved those community colleges that required that students enroll concurrently in occupational and academic courses such as English composition, social science, physical science, health occupations, and consumer education. Often no coordination among the faculty or in the development of curriculum was evident. Start-up costs of this model at a Chicago-area college were anticipated to be about $5,000 for travel and stipends to prepare four faculty to engage in the integration effort.

Finally, a fourth pattern of linked courses was offered at a rural downstate college where several occupational-degree programs were linked into a core curriculum, such as the Administrative Assistant, Health Information Assistant, Legal Assistant, and Information Processing Assistant degree programs that share courses in the Office Systems Technology area. Faculty worked together closely to coordinate the courses, so faculty commitment to them was high. According to a local administrator, faculty commitment and coordination was the most important ingredient for sustaining this linked-course arrangement.

Multidisciplinary Courses

The multidisciplinary model reinforces the application of academic courses, such as history, ethics, literature, and philosophy, and the general "study of culture from sociological or anthropological perspectives," ( Grubb et al., p. 7 ) to career-related developments and issues. The objective of multidisciplinary courses is to offer occupational students new, more analytically challenging, approaches to education. The multidisciplinary courses are frequently included in general education programs and, unlike applied academics courses that stress "related academic competencies required for employment" ( Grubb et al. 1996, p. 7 ), they emphasize the social and political aspects of work. These courses may not be considered essential aspects of occupational training, but they do contribute to a broader conceptualization of unified education emphasizing academic and occupational aspects. Theoretically, the value of this model lies both in the fact that it exposes the traditional general education student to occupational subjects, and that it draws the occupational student directly into academic curriculum with a focus on writing and analytical skills that are valuable in the workforce.

Fifteen Illinois community colleges reported using the multidisciplinary course model. Ethics as part of the health professional or business programs was the most popular manifestation of multidisciplinary courses, and ethics courses were often tailored to specific topics within occupational programs. One college in central Illinois offers an ethics course for environmental/agricultural students; another college uses the multidisciplinary model in its broadcast electronics program as well as health and nursing. Another central Illinois college developed numerous multidisciplinary courses using team teaching, and coordinated these offerings with various occupational programs associated with the local tech prep initiative.

Social science courses are also offered in support of the interest of occupational students, typically involving general cultural courses that offer the student "a broad view of what culture is", according to one administrator. These courses can constitute a grab bag of commentary on the impact of technology, media, movies, art, current events, international implications, actions and so forth, on society. We found only one instance in which an apparently more traditional history course was offered: The History of Technology. Other colleges offered a Social Psychology course. An integrated literature course was offered in only one instance, a course in children's literature as part of child-care program.

Generally, the multidisciplinary model appeared to work in two ways in Illinois colleges: either the multidisciplinary courses were courses recommended by or even linked to the occupational curricula, or they were courses specifically designed for the occupational students and therefore possibly overly narrow for the general student population. In this respect, a fine line was evident between applied academics and multidisciplinary courses. Indeed, classroom observation would be necessary to distinguish between multidisciplinary and applied academics courses, but they were not feasible as a scope of this investigation. Nonetheless, further understanding of multidisciplinary courses and their distinctions from and merits compared to applied academics courses or other models is needed.

Learning Communities

Learning communities consist of clustered programs or coordinated courses with a shared set of outcomes designed for a specific cohort of students and group of faculty ( Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews & Smith, 1990 ; Matthews et al., 1997 ). Learning communities are larger sets of linked courses and share many of the same characteristics of that model, but are particularly capable of linking a greater number of disciplines. According to a Schaad ( 1997 ), "learning communities have two common features: a) they link classes together and build relationships between subject matter to provide coherence for students, and b) they build both academic and social community for students and faculty by enrolling them together in a large block of coursework" ( p. 5 ). Students and faculty maintain a consistent, tight bond over a period of time to reinforce the emergent teaching and learning relationship.

Ten Illinois community colleges reported implementing the learning community model, but we found a wide variation in structure and emphasis. Perhaps the most advanced application of this model was found at a Chicago-area college where, according to a local administrator, "a cohort of students participate in a comprehensive series of modularized courses and work experiences" that are "planned, designed, and taught by a team of faculty with a focus on integration of arts and sciences with occupational perspectives along with academic learning integrated with work-site experiences." At another northern-state community college the learning communities differed in their topics from semester to semester, but the constant characteristics were that the student cohort came from the major (in one case, international business) and the classes were team-taught, developed by academic faculty who supported integration with occupational education.

At one mid-state college, the Quest Model distinguished itself by creating a separate student community that was not fully integrated with the general college community. This long-standing program was noted by Roueche and Roueche ( 1993 ) for fostering student solidarity within the community college, but this characteristic was also seen as a detriment by local faculty and college officials because students seemed to form such a cohesive group that they did not easily engage in other aspects of college life. In yet another mid-state college, a similar phenomenon was observed of freshman engaged in a learning community designed to assist them to select a college major (personal communication, C. Rich, September 10, 1999). In this case, freshman students resented being identified as part of a distinct group and faculty experienced difficulty getting them to participate fully in various learning opportunities thought by faculty to be creative and potentially beneficial.

Another variation of the learning community was manifested in courses organized into blocks within a particular occupational program, such as the engineering-sciences learning community at a northern-state college, where we saw an approach to the learning community model that might be called pre-occupational since it catered to developmental students who were taking remedial academic courses combined with a career orientation seminar. Investigating similar approaches in other community colleges, Perin ( 1999 ) concluded that remedial education can be enhanced if linked to college-level studies, suggesting that "students who come to the college for specific reason may have a much better chance of improving basic skills when remedial instruction is tied directly to their goals" ( p. 32 ). Grubb ( 1999 ) offered similar conclusions in his description of learning communities that combine remedial instruction and occupational education. He noted that this model offers "fresh approaches to the three R's", providing "students with supportive peers and instructors who know them" ( p. 204 ). Grubb also argued that these forms of learning communities enhance student retention and completion and help to maintain community colleges as "open-door" institutions ( p. 205 ).

In yet another approach to learning communities, one college experimented with the idea of focus interest groups (FIGs), an idea that grew out of the academic divisions of philosophy and speech ( Matthews et al., 1997 ). The college hoped to expand the FIGs into occupational course groupings. Another college considered tech prep agreements between the community college and local high schools as the basis for a learning community, perhaps because students were encouraged to move through the 2+2 program as cohort groups, sometimes taking the same course sequences. Though our definition of a learning community did not concur fully with this college's notion, the idea that secondary-to-postsecondary student transition could be facilitated through a learning community model is intriguing.

Overall, the learning communities offered by Illinois' community colleges varied considerably in two principal characteristics: student group solidarity and faculty coordination and cooperation. Few colleges offered learning communities involving both academic and occupational education that contained all the ingredients of the learning community, as defined by experts and the Illinois Task Force. Still, various aspects of learning communities were evident and continuing to evolve, offering the potential for more advanced implementation in the future.

Integration through Learning Technologies

Using technology to integrate academic and occupational education is the most difficult model to define succinctly but, though little consensus may exist to support it, the model may be defined as the deliberate use of distance learning, computer hardware and software, the Internet, and any other emerging educational, computer and information technologies that facilitate the integration of academic and occupational subject matter and pedagogical strategies ( Illinois Task Force on Integration, 1997 ). A convenient example of this model is the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web to enhance integration of information and resources within and across academic and occupational courses.

Though every community college was incorporating computer technologies into the overall curriculum, only 15 reported using technology to integrate academic and occupational education. With additional scrutiny utilizing document review and in-depth interviews, we found little evidence to suggest that many community college faculty were deliberately linking academic and occupational content using computer technology and the Internet. Rather, what we learned is that primarily Math, English Composition, Communications, and Biology courses were taught using computers to research (via the Internet) or produce class work relevant to various careers. An exception was two central-state colleges that were encouraging the use of the Internet across a wide variety of academic and business courses. Other uses of technology focused primarily on software packages for problem-solving within science, math, agriculture, nursing, and engineering only, rarely linking subject matter across these subjects in a structured way. One of the smaller Illinois community colleges required use of computer technology or specific computer courses in nearly all occupational curricula, while another college offered links to computer classes, such as the class on a standard presentation software package that allowed the students to develop presentations for their other classes. Interestingly, this class was team taught and accrued transfer credits.

In trying to understand the benefits and limitations of academic and occupational integration utilizing various technologies, we learned that some faculty viewed the Internet as "very time intensive." Yet, faculty involvement appeared to be crucial in developing and implementing computer and Internet technologies. Though administrators viewed themselves as supportive in encouraging this type of instruction, they sometimes did not sense enthusiasm from faculty. Consistently, community college administrators saw themselves as taking the lead in providing faculty and students with access to the Internet and computer technologies, and encouraging greater faculty involvement in the curriculum development and delivery processes.

Integration through Work-Based Learning

Work-based learning specifies work-related learning opportunities unique to the workplace that enables students to apply the academic and occupational knowledge, skills and attitudes they have obtained in the classroom ( Bragg, Hamm, & Trinkle, 1995 ). To many experts, the integration of academic and occupational education and work-based learning are highly compatible ideas. In their writing, Kazis and Goldberger ( 1995 ) suggest that "the two innovations are mutually reinforcing" ( p. 171 ). In describing the benefits of work-based learning, Bailey stated that better connections between academic and occupational instruction and work-based learning can "play an important role in strengthening the effectiveness of the workforce" ( pp. 36-37 ). These authors contend that the idea of academic and occupational integration need not be confined to traditional, classroom-based pedagogy, but expanded to other learning environments. When implemented effectively, work-based learning can provide a natural setting for integration to occur, as long as academic competencies are reinforced ( Hughes & Moore, 1999 ; Moore, 1999 ).

Thirty-seven Illinois community colleges implement some variation of the work-based learning model, with most having done so for decades. However, the extent to which the integration of academic and occupational education is an explicit goal of work-based learning varied. Many AAS-degree programs encouraged some sort of work-based learning component, though most did not make it a requirement. Because the majority of community college students are part-time and already employed ( Phillippe, 2000 ), some colleges reported difficulties arranging work-based learning experiences. Still, similar to national results ( Bragg et al., 1995 ) some occupational programs required work-based learning, and those showing the most substantial enrollments were in the health occupations and other fields requiring work-based learning to secure occupational credentials. Work-based learning was offered in Illinois community colleges included in a wide variety of programs (see Table 2 below ).

Table 2
Selected Occupational Programs offering Work-Based Learning Opportunities

  • Accounting
  • Electronics Tech
  • Agriculture
  • Fashion Merchandising
  • Auto Body
  • Fire Science
  • Auto Mechanics
  • Health Care
  • Broadcasting Technology
  • Horticulture
  • Business
  • Interior Design
  • Child Care
  • Law Enforcement
  • Computer Aided Engineering and Design
  • Manufacturing Technology
  • Computer Information Systems
  • Marketing
  • Cosmetology
  • Medical Transcription
  • Criminal Justice
  • Office Technology
  • Culinary Arts
  • Real Estate Appraisal
  • Dietary Management
  • Truck Driver Training

As with other models of integration, faculty frequently took the lead in developing and implementing the curriculum. However, with respect to work-based learning, the role of advisory bodies made up of local employers was more evident in the curriculum development process. Several colleges had program coordinators who worked with faculty, faculty mentors and business and industry contacts throughout the development and implementation process. Also, most work-based learning programs were evaluated on a regular schedule, at least every five years, usually through the review of advisory groups, industry councils and other entities that oversee the credentialling function. These evaluations sought to determine whether the program benefited the students and whether employers were satisfied. Respondents mentioned that if local business and industries were pleased with the crop of students they received from the college, they may be more likely to open new internships and support additional work-based learning programs. Even so, funding and placing students were considered formidable limitations to this model, and these concerns were mentioned by numerous respondents as a barrier to more wide-spread implementation.

Implications for Policy and Practice

Though the gulf between academic and vocational education has been wide throughout most of the 20th Century, changes in public policy during the decade of '90s has focused on closing the gap. Even so, the structural, political, and philosophical mechanisms that maintain clear distinctions between academic and vocational education have been difficult to modify. Problems with transferring applied academics courses and reluctance to commit institutional resources to support collaboration between academic and vocational faculty are indicative of deeper underlying differences. Political and organizational structures that separate the liberal arts for transfer from vocational-technical education for work, curricular approaches reinforced by external agencies, and the traditional distribution of time, space, and money all work together to perpetuate the schism between academic education and vocational education. Until these larger forces over which individual faculty have little control are recognized, it will be difficult to move beyond rhetoric calling for more integration. Faculty commitment to the idea of integration is important, but such commitment is difficult to carry out when one's professional life and career advancement is constrained by a different set of values.

Examining results of this study, curriculum integration involving academic and vocational education takes on many forms. Nearly all community colleges in Illinois have a long history of offering applied academics courses, with their strength being direct applicability to occupational fields. However, few of these courses count toward transfer, limiting their appeal for students who desire to continue at the baccalaureate level (a requisite goal for students engaged in 2+2+2 tech prep programs.) Besides applied academics, other models such as multidisciplinary courses, linked courses, learning communities, and integration through learning technologies are relatively sparse, suggesting specific policies and incentives are needed to reinforce integration using these more advanced and complex approaches. And, while work-based learning was evident in nearly all of Illinois' community colleges, it was rarely required unless needed to secure occupational credentials. It was also seldom viewed as a vehicle for integrating academic and vocational education, limiting its application to fulfil this purpose.

Results of this study prompted the Illinois Task Force on Academic and Occupational Integration to conduct a statewide conference and prepare a white paper titled, Blurring the lines: Integrating Academic and Occupational Instruction at the Community College ( 1997 ) in which Task Force members offered recommendations encouraging local and state administrators to support additional implementation of academic and occupational integration. Specific suggestions were made to offer workshops and internships for faculty providing practical experiences that could "be transferred to the classroom" ( p. 21 ) and to utilize the state's community college faculty association as a vehicle for on-going dialogue among educators across institutions. Specific recommendations made for state administrators and policy makers were to encourage initiatives such as tech prep, school-to-work, and P16 (Primary through Grade 16) to encourage academic and occupational integration; to recognize applied academics courses as part of the IAI process; and to ensure that performance indicators and measures required by various governing bodies support integration. In the closing section of Blurring the Lines the Task Force issued a solid statement of support for integration in Illinois' community colleges:

Whereas academic and occupational integration is a viable and innovative avenue for delivering education, a commitment to the concept and its promotion is needed to better serve the varied and unique individuals who turn to Illinois community colleges for learning. It is the hope of the Illinois Task Force on Integration that, through this document, the issue of academic and occupational integration has been raised to a new level in the state of Illinois. ( p. 23 )

Since the time the Task Force's report was distributed statewide in the spring of 1998, the need for integration has not diminished. Though the Task Force has not met regularly, members of the group remain committed to implementation of integration on their own campuses, including the sponsoring of a statewide workshop on academic and occupational integration in the fall of 2000. Anecdotal information suggests that integration activities are continuing on a sporadic basis ( Young, 2000 ), but formal studies are needed to portray the exact nature of these efforts. Systematic evaluation is needed to assess the impact of integration and determine how it is changing instructional programs and student outcomes.


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DEBRA D. BRAGG is Associate Professor, Human Resource Education and Educational Organization and Leadership, College of Education, Room 345, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois 61820, [E-Mail: d-bragg1@uiuc.edu .]. Dr. Bragg's research interests include student transition from high school to college, tech prep education, and other public policies that link academic and vocational education.

W. M. REGER, IV is a lecturer in the Department of History, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois 61790, [E-Mail: wmreger@ilstu.edu .]. His research interests include early modern Russia and Europe, the history of culture, and military history.