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Program design of community and service-based education: Implications for retention, learning achievement and program development for at-risk young adults

Michael C Westort, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Effective community and service-based educational programs are needed for disconnected urban young adults not in high school, in contact with the criminal or juvenile justice system, or who are otherwise facing limited career and learning opportunities towards economic self-reliance (Keith, 1997). Some programs in community and service-based education designed for this population have difficulty retaining their participants and achieving other key educational objectives (Westort, 1997). Through qualitative and some quantitative research methods, including interviews with program organizers, directors and staff; participation-observation of operating programs; and document analysis of program attendance records, progress reports, mission and policy statements and program schedules, this research identifies elements of existing programs that are most effective at retaining students in community and service-based education. It considers program scheduling, length of program, characteristics and qualifications of staff, type of activity, program context, and other elements that influence participants' ability and willingness to complete a program. Inductive data analysis reveal evolving categories and themes drawn from the research (Bogdan, & Biklen, 1994). Data analysis and triangulation across data sources makes evident reoccurring patterns that point to a relationship between program design (e.g., organization, incentives, staff and organizers, service activity, mission and goals, target population, etc.) and factors that impact retention (e.g., attitudes affecting attendance, real and perceived fit between participant needs and program goals, social context, accommodation of special needs, etc.). Based on this data and consideration of my experience in a program in Springfield, Massachusetts, this dissertation develops a model program that holds greater potential for accomplishing retention objectives. This model is a conceptual and operational model developed within the framework of prospective evaluation (U.S. General Accounting Office, PEMD-10.1.10, 1990, pp. 5–10). This model represents a more inclined understanding of at-risk and court-involved populations, corrections education, and a programmatic approach to combine principles of corrections education with community and service-based education to have greater success with retention as well as educational program objectives. Specifically, it was found that retention depends on a number of varied and distinct relationships between the teachers' qualifications and characteristics and real and perceived needs of the students; program scheduling and activities and the interests of the participants; participants' perceived needs and their practical ability to persist; and the total fit between program design and the population that the program serves.

Subject Area

Curriculum development

Recommended Citation

Westort, Michael C, "Program design of community and service-based education: Implications for retention, learning achievement and program development for at-risk young adults" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9950220.