"Job Training Works." But Can It Also Help Retain At-Risk Students?

By Walter Rodriguez, PhD, PE

A recent article in the New York Times titled "Job Training Works. So Why Not Do More?" applauds the success of in-demand career certification training programs, such as Information Technology certification in computers and networking (i.e., CompTIA A+ and Network+), among several others.

The article focuses on the merits of a "Women in Technology" job-training program sponsored by a non-profit organization in New York. The success of job-training programs has been further replicated and validated by WorkAdvance --where a variety of organizations created experimental in-demand training programs spanning from IT to healthcare.  This real-life "experiment" demonstrated that job-training participants were able to increase earnings. Further, many participants felt very hopeful about their career path and future earning potential.

So, Job Training Works. But, as the article asks: why not do more?

Job or career training has also been used very effectively to retain employees in their current jobs or to promote employees within their firm. Employees value these types of on-the-job-training as much as their salary & benefits. And employers value the industry-based certification training credentials that participants obtain. So, everyone wins.

But, now, can career training programs also help retain and persistently engage students? In my experience leading and offering in-demand career training, sponsored by the Department of Defense, National Science Foundation and private foundations, I have witness how these types of job-related, practical training, can improve student retention---even when these extracurricular programs are not generally being regarded as a genuine academic pursuit for faculty.

During the last twenty years, I/we have been incorporating practical training exercises in my online business courses at Florida Gulf Coast University (from CompTIA A+ and Excel training to e-commerce and webpage development exercises) with great success. Essentially, close to 100% of the participants and students have passed our courses with at least a C+ average and the general class average has been around B+.

I believe it's time to try this practical approach with the general student population, particularly with at-risk students (or courses, where their is a high dropout rate.) In general, I have found that we can retain students by using the following strategies:

  • Use engaging activities and exercises that mimic real-life (and involve their peers)
  • Focus on in-demand courses and programs related to what (at-risk) students do well
  • Provide pre-tests for the content or knowledge area to be discussed as well as tests and post-tests, after students have reviewed the materials and obtained feedback, respectively
  • Monitor students' progress using technology (such as, Learning Management Systems' analytics)
  • As the system analyzes and uncovers a problem (i.e., missing tests or low performance), seek early intervention (i.e., what's up?; why did you missed the pre-test?)
  • Provide in-demand practical skills that at-risk students feel they can use to find a future job and improve their financial situation. Relevance is key!
  • Implement individualized, self-paced career training experiences and programs in the student's area of interest.
  • If a student is going to drop (or it's being forced to withdraw for a semester or year, due to low grades), provide an alternative short career path, for instance, a one-semester career certification training program. It's a very practical and inexpensive way to keep at-risk students engaged and hopeful about their futures!