Cassadaga Job Corps: My Journey “Home”

Despite traveling the world and having the pleasure of working in various types of schools (Job Corps, Public School and University), my heart and passion resides within the Job Corps world. Shortly after graduating college I began working as a Residential Adviser at Cassadaga Job Corps. I absolutely fell in love. I never felt like I was going to work, and the students simply amazed me; their unique backgrounds, experiences and growth throughout the program gave new meaning to the phrase “second chance” and ignited a passion within me that I didn’t know I even had. Almost a year later I found myself transferring to one of the largest Job Corps centers in the country, Earle C Clements, located in Kentucky, and thus I began my teaching career. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and no school after that could compare to what I felt when teaching at Job Corps. Nearly five years later as a new mother and experienced teacher, I returned to Cassadaga Job Corps to rediscover my passion for education and the Job Corps program.

At this time, I am working towards obtaining my Masters Degree and growing professionally. My goals are to become more knowledgeable about the inner workings of Job Corps as a company, while also exploring new teaching practices that will ensure success in our classrooms. In my current class, Fundamentals of Integrative Thinking, my professor asked us to analyze a set of data that interests me. What better data to analyze than what I am most passionate about? You of course! Or, more specifically, the enrollment trends of both current and future students of Job Corps!

Right now Job Corps all over the country are experiencing a shortage of students. Our center is supposed to have on average 240 students. Right now we are only operating at about 128. We are nearly 50% below our target enrollment! Because I care about our program and all of the students that we help, I am curious as to WHY we are below, and WHAT we can do about it. So to begin this assignment I posed my question to several colleagues and senior staff, and they all gave me the same answer: enrollment is low all over the country, not just Job Corps. Schools are also experiencing a decrease in student enrollment. To some degree, this made sense. Perhaps this is a “school-wide” trend. Maybe students all over NYS are boycotting school? Or…maybe… this is a blanket excuse? What if the answer is unknown, and that excuse just SOUNDS logical, and to many, acceptable? The only way to know for sure is to check the facts and look at the numbers.

Normally, Cassadaga Job Corps pulls the majority of its students from major areas in NYS. These areas include: Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and NYC.  To check the original answer given to me by staff, I researched the enrollment rates of NYS in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. This was my result:

enrollment-trend

According to these three major areas in NYS, enrollment has in fact decreased throughout the state. The decrease in student enrollment ranges from 46 – 110 students, and an overall of 809 students throughout all of NYS.

**Note: I only included data from 11th and 12th grade enrollment statistics because of the ages in which Job Corps accepts students, and the range in which I polled our own student enrollment statistics. Because students have to be at least 16 to enter our program, and due to the fact that the latest data I could retrieve is from 2014-2015 ( almost two years ago), I could only include the 11th and 12th grade students in the data.

This honestly surprised me, as I was anticipating the data to be the opposite of what I was being told. I don’t feel that student enrollment decreasing by 46-100 or even by 809 students was a good enough excuse for operating well below our expected capacity. So, I decided to keep digging! To justify my position that this was not a plausible excuse, I researched student drop-out rates from the last two years across NYS. I was astounded by the results! Below is a slideshow of graduate and dropout rates for Monroe County, Erie County, and Bronx County. The number of student dropouts is located on the bottom right hand corner.

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The sheer number of students no longer enrolled in school, who are at home without a HS diploma, and who will struggle for the rest of their lives to get a decent well-paying job due to dropping out is shocking. Just those three areas combined is a whopping 3,238 students!!!! Are you aware of that??? Do you or your friends really want to be part of that number???

To determine how this giant group of student dropouts compared to the number of students who enrolled from June 2015-June 2016 without a HS diploma (right after the students dropped out of high school), I had to do some more digging. After a few days of searching our system and sorting through reports, I was able to analyze 255 student profiles (the number of students who enrolled from June 2015-June 2016), and selected the students who fit the guidelines for this report. From the profiles I was able to record 46 students without a HS diploma who came from either Erie County, Monroe County, or Bronx County, and fit the age requirements.

job-corps-enrollment-graph

**Note: the reason I added a third column to show “total combined” is because the ages ranged from 17-19 meaning two years of data could be accounted for when comparing Job Corps enrollment to the selected three counties.

If you’re having a hard time understanding the relationship between the numbers, let me break it down for you: Out of a possible 1,323 students who dropped out of Monroe County schools and were possibly eligible to attend Cassadaga Job Corps, only 23 did. In Erie County, only 11 out of a possible 1,550 student enrolled, and from the Bronx, only 12 students out of a possible 3,927 chose to come here.

NYS had a total combined number of 29,047 students who dropped out of high school in 2014 and 2015. That is utterly INSANE.

**Note: I say “possible” because there are specific requirements that a student must meet in order to be eligible for the program other than age and having (or not having) a HS diploma. So while this data is accurate, it’s not 100% accurate in it’s ability to determine the actual amount of students who “could have” enrolled.

So what does all of this mean?

While the data supports the notion that Job Corps enrollment is down because public school enrollment is down, I am NOT convinced that that is a logical, valid assumption. In fact, when looking at the number of students who have dropped out compared not only to our current enrollment of just 128 students, but also to the actual number of students who fit the criteria of this study, a mere 46, I want to call our recruiters and national office and yell, “WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON?!??!” How could there possibly be an average of 29,000 students without HS Diplomas and we are only operating at 50% capacity?? Our goal is to serve these students, to aid in helping them obtain their HS diplomas and a Trade, and to ultimately give them a second chance at creating a future that they have dreamed of, and yet, we seem to be missing thousands of students.

What can be done to decrease this massive gap in our enrollment? How can we, and yes this means you too, assist in increasing the number of students we are able to reach and help become successful?

Please answer the following questions and be prepared to share!

  1. When did you drop out of HS? (If you didn’t drop out and you have your HS Diploma, move on to the next question)
  2. How long after you dropped out did you realize that you needed to make a change? Or did someone help you come to that realization?
  3. When did you first here about Job Corps? How long was it after you left school?
  4. Did you discuss Job Corps with friends or family who were also in the same situation as yourself? Was it a positive or negative conversation? Did they come with you, or are they interested? Why or why not?
  5. When talking with a recruiter, what were the main reasons why you chose Cassadaga Job Corps?

References:

NYSED Data Site. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2016, from https://data.nysed.gov/