Evaluation: First-Year Implementation of the Center for After-School Excellence Certificate Programs
Center of After-School Excellence1 September 2008
A college-based, one-year certificate programme for after-school workers garnered positive response from U.S. participants who said the programme helped them improve their academic abilities as well as their knowledge about working with youth, according to this evaluation by Policy Study Associates.The Center of After-School Excellence at The After-School Corporation is a grantee of The Atlantic Philanthropies.
The mission of the Center for After-School Excellence, founded with support from The After-School Corporation (TASC) and the Atlantic Philanthropies in 2006, is to improve the skills, capacities, and knowledge of the staff who design, administer, and deliver after-school services to children and youth. As part of this mission, in Fall 2007 the Center launched a university-based program for staff who serve New York City youth in after-school programs, through a one-year certificate program in after-school studies offered in partnership with the City University of New York (CUNY). The Center contracted with Policy Studies Associates (PSA) to conduct a three-year evaluation of the implementation of its university-based programs and of the experiences and benefits accruing to program participants. This report describes the first year of implementation of the certificate courses and participant experiences in the program.
In its first year of implementation, the Center sponsored a one-year certificate program that provided an opportunity for after-school workers to gain a foundation of skills and knowledge in education and youth development through college coursework provided at five CUNY campuses: Hostos Community College, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Medgar Evers College, and York College. Through extensive recruitment efforts and partnerships with community-based and government agencies that serve as provider organizations for after-school programming in New York City, the Center recruited 94 certificate program participants during the first year, of whom 75 completed the certificate program. According to Center staff, 49 completers registered to continue classes through the Center for a second year, comparable to the CUNY system retention rate for first-year students (66 percent).
On average, participants had seven years of experience in the after-school field and relatively little exposure to college-level classes prior to enrolling in the certificate courses. Thirty-three percent of participants had not participated in formal schooling beyond a high school diploma or GED, and the Center estimates that 50 percent of participants had previously withdrawn from college programs because of academic challenges. Certificate program participants enrolled in the program to improve their ability to be effective youth workers (67 percent), earn credits towards a college degree (55 percent), serve as positive role models for youth (46 percent), and advance their careers (44 percent).
Many certificate program participants entered the program with extensive knowledge about working with and motivating youth, but 46 percent of participants were concerned about their ability to succeed in an academic setting. To address these concerns and to enhance the overall participant experience, participants received incentives, support, and encouragement from several sources: the Center, their employer, the CUNY college in which they enrolled, and their peers. Participants were most enthusiastic about the supports received from the Center and their 2 peers. Ninety-six percent of participants agreed that their participation in the program was encouraged by the Center, and 88 percent said their participation was encouraged by peers. Fifty-four percent of participants reported receiving incentives from their employers. The most frequent incentive reported was the opportunity for a pay raise (19 percent).
Approximately 80 percent of after-school workers who had enrolled in the certificate courses completed the program. To complete the certificate program, participants took three to four courses on topics such as foundations of education, English and writing, youth development and psychology, computers and technology, communication, and special education. The participating CUNY campuses together offered 19 courses in Year 1. Participants typically had positive experiences in the courses, particularly in courses that taught them new material and were closely related to their work and life experiences, such as youth development and psychology courses.
Overall, participants were extremely satisfied with the Center-sponsored certificate program. Ninety-six percent of participants reported that they enjoyed the program, 98 percent felt proud of their accomplishments, and 100 percent would recommend the program to a coworker or friend. In general, participants were also positive about the ways in which the certificate program helped them to improve their own academic abilities as well as their knowledge about working with youth. The majority of participants said they hoped to enroll in more college courses (83 percent) or in another certificate program with the Center (74 percent). In interviews, participants expressed their satisfaction with the certificate program:
Credit accumulation towards a degree is one of the most valuable things [in the program].
The program has given me a new lease on life. I felt trapped with no options. I feel empowered and energized. I didn’t think I would feel that way again.
In the first year of implementation of its certificate program, the Center achieved a high level of participant satisfaction with the program and the supports offered, a relatively high level of certificate completion, and served as a foundation for participants’ future educational plans.
Key findings and recommendations of the first year of the certificate program include:
- The Center’s partnerships with community-based and government agencies enhanced recruitment efforts. Agencies reported that efforts could be further improved by extending the application period and better distinguishing the certificate program from typical trainings available to after-school workers.
- Support from the Center and participants’ employers, college campuses, and peers contributed significantly to the positive experiences of participants. Participants recommended that the Center incorporate more opportunities for peer interaction, academic tutoring, and mentoring to improve the supports in the program.
- Participants entered the certificate program with diverse academic abilities, and most participants reported a desire to continue their education after completing the certificate program. Professors reported that further developing participants’ academic skills, including writing and study skills, could help participants succeed in the certificate program and in their continued education.
- Participants reported completing the certificate program with improved educational abilities (94 percent) and increased knowledge about working with youth (92 percent). To provide more opportunities to grow and learn, participants reported wanting the Center to offer courses on leadership in after-school, special education, and subjects that would improve their ability to assist youth in homework activities.
- Participants and community-based and government agencies that provide afterschool programming valued the Center’s certificate program and believed that it is a step in professionalizing the after-school field. Participants reported that deepening the program’s commitment to the after-school field—for example, by employing more professors with after-school experience—would further improve the program.