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Feature

15 members of the Department of Work, Community, and Family Education hold a banner, "#1 Ranked Graduate Program, Work Education (Dept. of WCFE), U of Minnesota, U.S. News & World Report, 2006."

Department of Work, Community, and Family Education faculty members celebrated their #1 ranking.

Exploring the frontiers of learning and work

Department of Work, Community, and Family Education graduate program ranks top in the nation

By Gayla Marty

From Brief, May 11, 2005

Every year, U.S. companies spend more than $60 billion on employee training and development, about the same as the entire federal budget for education. At the same time, more than 98 percent of high school students take courses in career and technical education, and community colleges' occupational majors attract the most students.

Leadership, teaching, and research in these areas is the focus of the University's Department of Work, Community, and Family Education (WCFE). Positioned within one of the top colleges of education in the world, WCFE's faculty includes 15 experts on issues from career preparation in high schools to organizational memory in corporations.

Now WCFE is ranked first among vocational and technical education graduate programs in the nation, tied with Ohio State, according to the most recent U.S. News & World Report ranking of graduate programs.

HRD and CTE

In workplace talk, there's human resource management (HRM) and human resource development (HRD). The HRD side includes things like learning new software, language training, leadership, and adapting to change.

Career and technical education (CTE) gives youth and adults a connection to the workplace as a place to learn. High schools and colleges engage students in learning about the workplace and use the workplace to develop both occupational and academic skills.

HRD and CTE are the two major areas of research and teaching in WCFE. The department's graduate programs currently enroll 160 master's and 190 doctoral students from 69 countries. Some highlights:

A century of leadership

WCFE's history dates back nearly a century to a time when the University was deeply involved with problems related to developing the industrial work force in Minnesota. An educational psychology professor, Homer Smith, worked with the state legislature and Dunwoody Technical Institute to respond to social demands on labor, and Smith became a leader in an emerging field. One milestone was the Vocational Education Act of 1917.

The College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) ranked 12th overall out of 190 graduate education programs in the U.S. News & World Report survey and fifth among public universities in the nation. Among the top five public universities, CEHD's teacher licensure program is the only one accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, making it the top-ranked, nationally accredited, public college of education in the nation. Individual programs in CEHD ranked as follows:

-Vocational/technical, tied for #1 with Ohio State U
-Developmental psychology (Institute of Child Development), #3
-Special education, #4
-Counseling/personnel services, tied for #4 with the U of Wisconsin, Madison
-Educational psychology, #6
-Curriculum and instruction, #9
-Elementary education, #11
-Secondary education, tied for #12 with U of Maryland, College Park; U of Texas, Austin; and U of Washington
-Administration/supervision, #12

Since then, key factors in making WCFE one of the best in the country have been a productive faculty, an entrepreneurial spirit, and success in attracting students and postdoctoral researchers from around the world, according to McLean. With faculty members from nations including the U.K., New Zealand, Canada, and China, in addition to the United States, it draws on global perspectives, Yang adds.

"One of the biggest successes has been growing the academic side of HRD," says Swanson. "This department has birthed three research journals in the field."

Being a home to the National Research Center for six years and part of the National Center Consortium, led by the University of California, Berkeley, for the previous 12 played a big part in gaining national visibility, Stone says.

Looking ahead

Despite this year's recognition, faculty members worry about shrinking resources, providing support for graduate students, loss of key faculty, and potential restructuring in the college that may drain attention and resources. They'd like to develop greater strength in the "work" aspect of the department and become a leading knowledge base.

"'How do you work with people?' is still a really large problem," says Swanson.

Debate about education has begun to include questions about high school, says Stone, and WCFE has a history of researchers and scholars who are experts in the role of career and technical education in high school. Stone believes WCFE should continue to inform state and national policy that will help teachers prepare their students to become productive adults.

"This means having a sufficient critical mass of CTE scholars who know and understand the role of occupational preparation for youth and adults in schools, the community, and the workplace," he says. "We are well positioned to assume a major role in this discussion--if the resources are present."

What advice does the WCFE faculty have for its own workplace as the U enters into significant restructuring?

"Organizational research tells us that a successful reorganization seldom succeeds when done from the top down only, yet people in all types of organizations continue to try to do this," McLean says. "When faculty [members] understand the needs and are part of the process, the process will succeed to an extent undreamed of by those who want to control outcomes."

"Allocate resources strategically," says Yang. "View education of employees as an investment, not a cost."


U.S. News & World Report's "America's Best Graduate Schools 2006" can be found at http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/grad/rankings/rankindex_brief.php.

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