Lives in Transition

Lynn Safarik

Coordinator of Career Advancement Training Program at California State University, Long Beach from 1989-1995.

Teresa was among the first students to enroll in the Career Advancement Training Program in the fall of 1992. A friend who knew of her interest in working with children with disabilities referred her to the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) program. She had never been to college but had acquired some post-secondary training through the military. She had worked as a truck driver in shipping and receiving and, at the time she interviewed at CSULB, was employed as a grocery checker. Teresa, a young mother of two, was enthusiastic about beginning a new career in special education; her past volunteer experiences had sparked an interest. Despite her apprehension about going back to college, she clearly had a sense of determination.

The program advisor recommended that Teresa begin by taking the Job Coach class at one of the articulated sites, Coastline Regional Occupational Program (CROP). It was close to her home and would enable her to get some immediate hands-on experience. Teresa excelled in the classroom and in the practical component of the program where she learned how to job coach students with a wide range of disabilities in a vocational program under the supervision of a certified instructor.

Feedback from the CROP site advisor to the Career Advancement Training Program coordinator was positive. She appeared to be a natural teacher and was skilled in working with students and employers alike.

Feeling confident about her progress, Teresa contacted a friend who was employed at the Disabled Students Program and Services at Fresno College coordinating summer white water rafting trips for persons with disabilities. Teresa volunteered to go along on the next trip. This experience proved to be inspirational, further convincing her that she had found her niche. Other volunteer experiences enhanced her training; in fact, she earned extra credit hours for her job coach class by participating in the International Wheelchair Tennis Tournament.

During her first year in the program, Teresa had gained the training, experience, motivation, and confidence that she needed to begin her program at CSULB. Upon advisement from the CROP site advisor, she enrolled in the Winter Bridge Program at CSULB, a class designed to orient new transition students to the university program. Teresa was assigned a peer advocate, Margie, a student in her final year in the CSULB Undergraduate Transition Services Program. Margie was selected because she worked at Coastline ROP in the career guidance department and could help Teresa with her studies as well as with her new position at Coastline ROP. (Teresa had been hired as a part-time assistant in the Learning Handicapped Program, part of the California State Transition Partnership Program.)

Teresa continued her academic program by enrolling in an English 100 course at the community college. Concurrently, Teresa enrolled in her first university course, Introduction to Transition Services. In Fall 1993, one year after her application to the program, she was hired as a full-time job coach and instructional assistant at Coastline ROP.

Four years later, Teresa has made considerable progress in both her studies and professional development. She has only a few courses left toward completion of her bachelorâs degree. When she graduates, she will also have accumulated a wealth of experience in classroom and community settings. With the help of a network of friends and colleagues both at CSULB and Coastline ROP, she will soon reach her goal of becoming a certified special education teacher.


Teresa’s story shows how a multi-agency program is well suited to address the needs of paraprofessionals who are seeking training and career advancement. Adult students must coordinate work and family responsibilities when they are planning their educational program. Often, this means that they must alternately take classes at different institutions, depending on when classes are offered and considering travel distance from home, work, and childcare facilities. Their support network includes co-workers, college advisors, friends, classmates, and family. Paraprofessionals may change jobs frequently or combine several part-time jobs. The need for employment is more than financially-based; adult students need to grow professionally as they complete their education in order to sustain a high level of motivation and to establish a career path.

A program that offers flexibility, practical training, and builds the student’s support network is necessary to accommodate the complex lives of adult students. The importance of extra-institutional factors, such as community and employment-related social support, is emphasized in sociological models of college impact that are used to describe how and why students persist and attain their goals in higher education institutions (Weidman, in Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Drawing upon this model, the career-ladder program described in this monograph integrates training, education, work, and community experiences to facilitate the professional growth of returning adult students.

The Career Advancement Training Program for Transition Services Personnel is one of several titles used to describe a program that began in 1989 and that has undergone several permutations over the ensuing eight years. Today, the program is referred to as the Transition Services Training Program for Paraprofessionals . The name change reflects the program’s increased focus on paraprofessionals. Initially, the program was designed as a certificate program for vocational instructors and other support service personnel who work in schools and adult service agencies with persons with disabilities. The need for trained transition services personnel grew out of the state and federal special education and rehabilitation services policy that emphasized employment preparation and independent-living skills training for youth and adults with disabilities.

Spearheaded by vocational/special needs faculty in the Department of Occupational Studies at California State University, Long Beach, the original program content and structure were based on local training needs research (Morehouse & Albright, 1991). Its eighteen-unit curriculum was designed to augment traditional vocational instructor coursework, but was conceived primarily as a stand-alone certificate option for school and agency-based paraprofessionals such as job coaches or employment training specialists.

The program has grown into a multi-level, multi-agency training system that includes two secondary regional occupational programs 1, four community colleges 2, and California State University, Long Beach. Recently, the program has been extended to include an outreach effort to local school districts that provides intensive, on-site training for district paraeducators who receive a certificate through University College Extension Services at CSULB 3. Over the years, multiple contingencies shaped the program; some were unanticipated; others were predictable but unavoidable. In retrospect, the program that exists today is a result of both purposeful fine-tuning and adaptation for survival.

This monograph describes the transformation of the program from an externally funded special program to an articulated, institutionalized degree program and career-ladder system which links multiple agencies. By examining the adaptive process, the successes and obstacles, and the outcomes–anticipated and unanticipated–this case may provide insights for others interested in organizational change and the innovation process. Elements of the innovation process, as summarized by Palumbo, are readily recognizable:

No single individual or group generally is responsible for getting an innovation routinized in an organization (Yin, 1979), although there generally are policy entrepreneurs, catalysts, or fixers who play large and important roles in the adoption and diffusion process (Bardach, 1980; Doig, 1981; Palumbo, Musheno, & Maynard-Moody, 1985). It usually is impossible to fix the exact date when a particular innovation began, and the innovation will be reinvented a number of times or modified to fit into the specific needs of those who will use it (Rice & Rogers, 1980). Many years usually pass for the diffusion process to unfold, and along the way a number of unanticipated consequences are likely to occur, so that the end results are likely to be quite different from those anticipated earlier in the process (Lincoln, 1985, p. 7).

These aspects of the innovation process can be roughly translated into three ideas about innovation. It is:
1) a messy, dynamic process that is largely consumer-led,
2) a collaborative endeavor, and
3) a long and bumpy ride leading to an unplanned destination. These themes are present throughout this analysis of the processes and program features that appear to have been critical to the program’s viability.

Three central components of the implementation and development of the Transition Services Training Program for Paraprofessionals are the focus of this paper. They include: 1) the collaborative curriculum development approach which formed the foundation for the program, 2) the institutionalization of the university program through the establishment of a formalized degree option, and 3) the student support strategies and mechanisms that link the articulated programs to form a career-ladder system.

Of interest to higher education professionals, issues of leadership, college impact and nontraditional student development, and the relationship of policy to practice are raised in consideration of the details of the career-ladder program. For those interested in the training and career-development of paraprofessionals in education and related services, this piece may contribute to the evolving dialogue on how their unique needs may be more systematically addressed by two- and four-year institutions. Since the majority of paraprofessionals who participate in the program are women who have re-entered post-secondary education, those interested in the college experiences of women who combine work, school, and family may also find useful information here.

The Post-Facto Action Plan

Implementation research and organizational theory has shifted in focus in recent years to macro-organizational behavior (Lincoln, 1985). Macro-organizational behavior refers to the numerous horizontal relationships between participating agencies that are required for the implementation of social programs. Palumbo stresses that rationality in organizational behavior is retrospective rather than prospective. He explains why this is true:

What is crucial about the focus on macro-organizational behavior is the complexity of joint action. The large number of participants, perspectives, and decision points necessary for the completion of a program brings into stark relief the problems associated with injecting prospective rationality into organization behavior. As successful implementation in such ambiguous circumstance requires mutual adaptation among the actors involved, the only kind of rationality that seems to exist in organizations is retrospective as opposed to prospective. Retrospective rationality involves explaining events after they have occurred, whereas prospective rationality is an attempt to predict and control events before they occur. Although at times organizations attempt to be rational in the prospective sense, most often they are rational only in the retrospective sense. Hence organizational behavior is rational, but only in the sense that organizations act first, then analyze what they did, rather than the other way around (Palumbo & Nachmias, 1983). As Karl Weick (in this volume) explains, intention seldom, if ever, controls action; but because we assume that what appeared to happen did happen, we often conclude that rational models actually work when, in fact, they do not. (1985, p. 9)

This observation about the implementation process aptly describes the way the collaborators proceeded in planning and developing the Career-Ladder Program. After the initial planning session, the original action plan became less and less useful as we plowed through the multiple bureaucracies of our respective institutions. A few of the steps were salvaged, but in the end an entirely new process was delineated and it occurred to us that the step-by-step plan had little relevance to the way we actually worked. Instead, our method was more pragmatic; we worked on aspects of the project that inspired us as a group or on those items that were of pressing concern to individual members. Somewhere in the middle of the process, we constructed a plan that more accurately depicted our course of action.

The above explanation withstanding, for the collaborative team (which consisted of representatives from each of the participating regional occupational programs, community colleges, and the university) these steps describe our general direction and activities:

  1. Identify a task force.
  2. Establish an advisory board within each community college, regional occupational program and at the university.
  3. Conduct a regional survey of employment characteristics and opportunities for paraprofessionals in transition.
  4. Develop and analyze competencies for the various paraprofessional roles in transition.
  5. Conduct an external and internal review of the competencies.
  6. Organize competencies with respect to training settings.
  7. Match competencies to existing curriculum.
  8. Recommend additional courses be developed to match competencies not covered in courses currently offered.
  9. Articulate curricula among the three training settings.
  10. Set up procedures for recruiting, advising, and monitoring student progress across training levels.
  11. Document the collaborative process by creating a guidelines manual for transition service program developers.
  12. Maintain regular communications through collaborative team meetings, site visits and other professional exchanges (e.g. collaborative proposal development).

Whereas the above steps represent the guiding process for coordinating the articulation of the individual programs, in a multiple-site collaborative, each agency must operate within the structure, policies, and timetables of its own setting. Procedures for obtaining course approval and administrative support and for navigating communication channels are unique to the participating agencies. The central steps, which involved development of the curriculum and the conceptualization of the articulated programs, comprise the essence of our work together. They were as follows:

  1. Using competency review data to identify which competencies should be part of the training programs at each level.
  2. Using competency-to-course matrix to identify which competencies are part of existing courses and where new courses need to be developed.
  3. Revising existing course outlines to incorporate new competencies.
  4. Matching clusters of competencies to whole courses.
  5. Identifying a course that will serve as the articulation link between levels, e.g. the job coach class.
  6. Developing a course outline for the “linking course” for all three programs- regional occupational program (ROP), community college (CC), and university- and review for alignment with competency review data.
  7. Bringing courses through curriculum committees at all sites.
  8. Working with articulation officers at each site to establish formal articulation agreements between ROP’s and CC’s; and CC’s and universities.
  9. Arranging for the appropriate publication of articulated courses and programs in institutional catalogs and other publications.

A Collaborative Curriculum Development Approach

Operational decisions about the collaborative planning project (e.g., identifying sites, personnel, timelines, resources) are among the many start-up phase activities. The development of a common conceptual framework, however, is an important first step if all team members are to have joint ownership of the project.

Defining the training needs is probably the most critical collaborative planning activity. This process not only serves as a way to focus the group’s efforts, but also creates a forum for expressing individual concerns, personal philosophies, and creative approaches before a course of action has been set. The importance of establishing a spirit of mutual respect and a sense of shared mission cannot be overlooked in articulation work and these initial discussions of purpose and larger policy issues greatly enhanced the collaborative climate. Through this process, we all became committed to this initiative.

The process of defining training needs began with the identification of the roles, skill requirements, and employment settings of personnel providing transition services. A systematic survey of local transition services personnel roles included a review of the literature on their competencies as well as a profile study of a sample of CSULB Undergraduate Transition Services Program applicants. Several brainstorming sessions followed, resulting in the compilation of an extensive list of job titles, some widely used by transition service deliverers (job coaches, employment specialists, and others more loosely associated with transition such as guidance technicians and work experience coordinators).

This collection of job titles was organized by employment setting and professional area. Three major settings were identified as employment sites for transition services personnel: secondary, post-secondary, and adult service agencies. Within each setting, personnel worked in the fields of vocational education, special education, or vocational rehabilitation. This organizational framework provided a point of reference from which the team could identify competency requirements that were realistic in the local job market.

At this point, the development of the conceptual framework required an analysis of role hierarchies as they occurred in the field, using the framework developed by the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services. By distinguishing between paraprofessional and professional roles, the team could then begin to sort personnel roles by levels of training (or credentials, degrees) needed. Director Anna Lou Pickett’s functional definition of a paraprofessional as one who works directly with students in an instructional capacity- but who ultimately works under the supervision of a certified teacher or professional (Pickett, 1989)- was adapted to include the stipulation that they not have a bachelor’s degree.

The process of exploring transition-related job roles in the multiple contexts of agency and professional area (discipline) and by organizing these roles as being either paraprofessional or professional, enabled the team to develop a basis for the development of curriculum at multiple training levels.

The next step in conceptualizing the articulated programs was to clarify the nature and purpose of the training segment to be offered at each institutional level. This was be accomplished by defining the individual missions of secondary vocational education, community college vocational training, and professional development in vocational education at the university level. The team’s assumption was that program articulation can best serve students who are seeking career advancement and professional growth if the participating institutions are providing training that is consistent with their mission.

For example, secondary vocational education at a regional occupational program introduces students to an occupational area by providing hands-on, specific skills training that will prepare them for entry-level employment in a specific job. At the same time, regional occupational program training in any one of a cluster of related occupational areas enables students to explore a range of career paths. Community college programs, by offering intensive training in a vocational area, prepare students for more advanced positions in a field and help the student further define his or her career path. The general education component in community college programs provides the student with the educational breadth required for transfer to a four-year university, if the students so desire.

The mission of a university program is broader still, with a more theoretical curriculum and including leadership and professional development as primary goals. The vocational training program at a university prepares students to assume professional roles in an applied field (e.g., transition services). The team studied transition services personnel roles with this perspective on institutional training purposes in mind. Accordingly, entry-level job training in transition service (e.g., job coach) is most effective at the ROPâs and CCâs; job development and instructor training is appropriate at the community college and university; and transition specialists or coordinator training is the focus of training at the university (possibly extending into graduate school).

These guidelines were helpful in ascertaining the general nature of training at each level. Clearly, there is some overlap in training purposes and curriculum objectives. However, the orientation of training varies by institutional level; training is more skills focused at the secondary program, more broad-based at the university, and somewhere in between at the community college. With these guidelines in place, specific training competencies were identified.

Research Base

The development of model curricula to be used for multi-level transition services personnel training was based on a study of regional training needs in transition services that provided the basis for the original grant proposal (Morehouse & Albright, 1991). The study surveyed 95 paraprofessionals and 47 administrators in public school and adult service agencies in the Southern California area about the relative importance of transition services training competencies. Five categories of baseline competencies were identified.

These original competencies were analyzed and revised repeatedly by the team to produce a set of competencies that would be sufficiently detailed for the purpose of developing a comprehensive curriculum. The set of 32 baseline competencies was expanded to fifty-four. The revised competencies were organized under eight headings:

A. Core Competencies
B. Assessing Transition Program Needs
C. Assessing Learner Needs
D. Planning Transition Programs for Special Needs Learners
E. Implementing Training/Instructional Components
F. Job Development and Placement
G. Job Site Training and Instruction
H. Developing Professional Skills

The rationale that guided our analysis and revisions was the need for a comprehensive career-ladder training program. The curriculum would meet the specific training needs of Job Coaches and Job Developers but would also be generic enough to allow transferable skill development. The philosophical, ethical, and legal aspects of personnel training as well as the foundations of transition services were addressed in the “Core Competencies” area. The “Developing Professional Skills” competencies were part of the university training for paraprofessionals moving into professional roles.

The competency review process was conducted in three phases: 1) a training program participant review, 2) a national expert panel review, and 3) a final validation of competency revisions by four internal and external reviewers. The instrumentation and analysis procedures are described in detail in Safarik, et al , 1994.


The collaborative team was formed through an established network of associates who had professional ties to the Project Director at the lead institution, CSULB. The community colleges and regional occupational programs invited to participate in this project were geographically and programmatically desirable; however, the primary reason for their selection was based on individual qualifications and level of commitment to the project. The start-up phase entailed several meetings with key administrators at each institution, to enlist their support, engage them in establishing long-term directions for the project, and to get their assistance with the identification of collaborative team members to represent their institutions.

The initial project planning meetings included the CSULB Project Director and Coordinator and key administrators from RSC and Mt. SAC: the Deans of Occupational Education; Coordinator of Occupational Services; Coordinator, Special Services; Chair of the Human Development Department; Director, Disabled Students Services; and Disabled Students Services Placement Specialist .

During these planning meetings with administrators, two important project directions were established÷first, that the desired outcome was to develop a model curriculum for transition services training to be used statewide; and second, to expand the articulation process to include ROPâs (East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program and Coastline Regional Occupational Program).

These two regional occupational programs were selected based on their proximity to the community colleges, their level of activity in transition services programming, and their status as recognized leaders in the state as exemplary secondary vocational education programs. Both individuals selected to participate in the project were alumni of the CSULB Graduate Program in Transition Services.

During the third project year, Coastline Community College was identified as a third community college to participate in the collaborative. Coastline, with a nationally recognized special programs division (particularly their acquired brain injury program) and with strong leadership in the disabilities field, made an important contribution to establishing the program content.

Personnel selection was driven by a pairing notion; that is, we matched ROPâs and community colleges that were compatible in terms of geographic location, history of program articulation, and personnel linkages. In this sense, two pairs were established within the team, Mt. San Antonio College and East San Gabriel Valley ROP and Coastline Community College and Coastline ROP. Rancho Santiago College, which is geographically accessible to both ROP’s and which had no prior history of articulation with either, worked with both institutions. A more recent addition to the collaborative, Cypress College is tied closely to our recently developed paraeducator training program at the ABC school district in Cerritos, CA.

The details offered through this explanation of site and personnel selection might seem overstated. Utilizing an existing professional network to mount the collaborative made our work more productive, more enjoyable, and helped to sustain the project over the long haul. The educational backgrounds, areas of professional expertise and position within the organizational structure varied among team members; this diversity enhanced the project, as we drew upon the differing strengths, interests, and resources of individuals who worked from different perspectives. Team members had backgrounds in vocational education, special education, and human development, and had experience in working with at-risk youth, developmentally disabled adults, children with learning disabilities, and persons with acquired brain injuries. Some were among the pioneers in the supported employment field; others had strengths in program administration.

We approached the collaborative project through a shared leadership strategy. This occurred naturally as individual team members participated at differing levels throughout the years when professional and personal commitments impinged on their ability to contribute. Our collaborative shared births, divorces, job changes, and other life changes as we nurtured the program over the years. Several of the team members have moved on to new professional challenges since we started in 1989. New members have joined the group and the original members have planted seeds from the collaborative in their new organizations. Although the project is always about individuals- and they come and go- the collaborative never seems to lose members. Instead the network expands as members move around.

We did find, however, that the position of team members within their organizations determined the degree of efficiency with which we were able to get the programs up and running at the individual sites. The team members who were trainers, had direct control over curricular decisions, and had direct contact with students were most successful in establishing the linkages with other agencies.

At the community college, implementation was easier for those team members who were part of an academic unit than it was, for example, for one team member who worked in the disabled student services program as a placement specialist. This person had to establish credibility with faculty who were unfamiliar with the field of transition services and gain the support of the appropriate academic department before proceeding with course approval procedures. Even though this team member was very experienced and well known for her work with disabled students and state rehabilitation programs, it was difficult for her to gain access to the formal curriculum processes without a faculty advocate. In contrast, for those community college team members who were already a part of the decision-making loop, course approval and articulation was a routine procedure.

At the university, which was the coordinating institution, the support of department faculty and personnel from administrative units was critical. Because two senior faculty played an active role in project administration in the early phase of program development, bureaucratic obstacles were minimized. For instance, a cooperative relationship between the Department of Occupational Studies (in which the program was situated) and the Admissions and Records unit on campus helped smooth the admissions process for paraprofessionals who were classified as adult re-entry students. This special status, typical for the majority of vocational instructors who enrolled in the department for a Designated Subjects Teaching Credential, allowed students to temporarily delay standard admissions requirements such as placement tests and grade-point average criteria. As non-matriculated students were able to complete all of some of their teaching classes after having only completed an abbreviated application and admission process. Later, they had the option of “rolling over” to the degree program, but this process was made simpler since they were now considered transfer students, had established a record of academic success, and felt more confident as university students.

Transition students who do not enter with sufficient units to qualify as a transfer student (56 units) are able to benefit from the same admissions policy for re-entry students. This is an important factor in supporting the non-traditional student; otherwise, the admissions and records bureaucracy can become so cumbersome for a re-entry or at-risk student that it prevents students from taking the important first-step in getting back to school. Because CSULB is a large, state university, the support and cooperation of admissions and records personnel can make or break a student’s chances of being successful. Fortunately, the records evaluation and admissions process is made more manageable for students and faculty in the undergraduate transition services training program through a student-centered philosophy on both ends.

Ultimately, the success of an innovative program within a traditional academic department depends to a great extent on the support of departmental leadership. When leadership or vision changes within a department, an externally funded program÷particularly when a non-tenure track or junior faculty member administers it÷is quite vulnerable. The high level of commitment required of the program coordinator in order to sustain a multi-agency program cannot be maintained without full support. When a department is not willing to consistently invest in the effort and commit to its full inclusion in the department, hard-won linkages are apt to break down. Given this reality, the critical element is to ensure program institutionalization in as many ways as possible before losing fiscal support. The institutionalization process is discussed further in a later section of this monograph. The need for faculty support from the academic department withstanding, the resiliency of the collaborative is a question of values and commitment.

Resources And Incentives For Collaborative Planning

The resources for the collaborative curriculum development project came from three successive federal grants. The first two, which were three- and five-year awards respectively, included moneys for the participating sites. The first, awarded in July 1989, devoted a total of $3,000 to be used by participating community college sites. Originally, funds were distributed equally between Rancho Santiago and Mt. San Antonio Colleges. During the second project year, when it expanded to include two regional occupational programs, these funds were subdivided to include the two additional sites. During the third year of the original training grant, funds budgeted for the articulation sites were phased out. Later, a second federal training grant provided additional resources for participating sites. A sum of $6,000 was allocated for five Site Advisors (collaborative team members). Each one outlined a site section plan yearly to demonstrate how funds would be used to carry out the project goals.

The amount and use of funds by each site varied year by year depending on the level and purpose of site activity. For instance, when two site advisors presented the project at a national conference, they were provided extra funds to cover travel and presentation preparation expenses. In another case, a site advisor at a community college used project money to pay for the cost of course instruction for the first offering.

Apparently , incentives for participating in the collaborative had little to do with the stipends provided by grants over the years. A relatively small amount of money (between $500 and $1,000 per year per team member for five years) was paid to each participating institution. In some cases, this amount was paid to the team member for the specific services identified through a contractual agreement with CSULB. Other agencies opted to absorb this money into their general fund. Although the stipend was primarily intended for establishing a solid relationship with the institutions, CSULB recommended (in collaboration with the site representative) guidelines for its use, consultant fees, and student scholarships. The team members, some of whom never received the stipend money, seemed to be motivated more by the importance of the career ladder concept. Early in the collaborative the group conceded that our work would not depend on funding, but instead viewed the project as a long-term process with the ultimate goal being institutionalization within and across our sites.

The collaborative project was sustained by our collective value of outcomes beyond program articulation . Instead of limiting our purpose to signing articulation agreements, we intended to create a flexible, coordinated system of support, training, and career advancement for paraprofessionals. The most important outcome of the project has been to establish a network of professionals whose service, creativity, and commitment was not bound to their own institution, but which transcended institutions to support paraprofessionals in transition services and related areas.

There are many incidental benefits of the collaborative approach to building a career-ladder training system. It becomes a way of regularly and systematically sharing information about employment opportunities for paraprofessionals, a method for improving and updating training content, and an opportunity to keep informed about policy and professional development events at the state, local, and national levels and as a mechanism for obtaining external funding to enhance organizational directions (e.g. to increase the number of paraeducators of color in the career ladder program).

As a result, the collaborative has created professional growth opportunities for both the team members and students. Over the years, each of the team members has presented the project at state and national conferences. Seven students have made national presentations of their work through the program.Two of the team members are now adjunct faculty at CSULB and two others have collaborated on related grant-funded projects.

When we first started the project, there were few program models to draw upon. Over the years, it has been gratifying to share our progress and observe the increasing interest in the paraprofessional career development movement. Project spin-offs, such as work with local school districts in developing training and career-ladders for their paraprofessional staff-as well as participation in research conducted by the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services- are additional outcomes of the collaborative.

Most importantly, the collaborative allows us to keep track of and support students more effectively and over a greater length of time than we are able to individually. Through our network, we keep each other informed about student progress. The collaborative has made long-term mentoring possible for the students who may take five years or longer to move through the various levels of the career-ladder program. Adult students often drop in and out when circumstances arise that interrupt their training program. Sometimes a student will take a leave to take advantage of a job opportunity or to take care of his or her family. The flexibility of the multiple-site program allows for this pattern of adult education. Most students keep in touch with advisors whether or not they are enrolled in classes, even when they have relocated to another region or state.


The process of moving the innovation from an externally funded certificate program to an institutionalized, multi-agency training system was shaped, constrained, and facilitated by many bureaucratic structures, events, and observations. The change process, which did not conform to our neatly laid plans, often seemed erratic and stagnated. On one hand, getting the program off the ground required that we fit the new program into existing degree structures. This entailed highly individualized program advisement; each student’s background and training needs were assessed on an case-by-case basis and course substitutions were utilized extensively to get students through. This pragmatic approach appeared to be working during the first year or two. In the sense that it assured the acceptance of the innovation among the other faculty members, it was appropriate and functional. However, this labor-intensive process soon became unmanageable and inefficient. Often, it seemed that the program would not survive. Through this interactive process of trial and error and adaptation, however, the program evolved to a more formal structure.

It became evident that a separate degree option for transition services students was needed. In retrospect, it appears that this development was guided by a rational implementation plan. There were actually several factors that provided the impetus for establishing a new bachelor’s degree option in transition services in addition to the impracticability of fitting the training program into existing÷but incompatible÷degree programs: a growing and increasingly diverse group of students interested in a transition services training, the continued passage of federal and state legislation requiring trained transition services personnel, and a growing empirical basis for training competencies in transition services (Safarik, Prather, Hanson, Guzman, Ryan & Schwan, 1991; DeFur & Taymans, 1995). In short, the student/consumer’s needs- driven by national, state, and local policy and agency needs÷forced the program changes. As their needs interacted with institution-specific contingencies, dysfunctional structures slowly broke down and were replaced by more functional ones. The following chain of events illustrates how the program evolved at the university level.

The Csulb Program

The original program, the Undergraduate Transition Services Training Program at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) was designed to be an eighteen-unit certificate program within the bachelor’s degree program in the Department of Occupational Studies. The six-course sequence comprised three phases: Phase I, Introduction to Transition Services; Phase II, four courses individually selected from among the Occupational Studies and Educational Psychology offerings; and Phase III, a Practicum. Only two of these courses, Phase I and Phase II, had to be developed. It was not necessary to go beyond departmental review to obtain approval for these courses since existing seminar and generic practicum course numbers were used to run the courses. These six courses were based on nationally researched competencies (Safarik et al, 1991). Students selected Phase II courses based on an assessment of their prior coursework and experience. After several offerings, the Phase I course, Introduction to Transition Services, was refined and subsequently approved by the university through formal curriculum review and approval processes as a regular course offering in the Department of Occupational Studies.

Because the CSULB program was funded by external funds for the first four years, personnel were supported through the grant. A full-time coordinator (non-tenure track) was hired and two senior faculty served as Project Director and Associate Project Director. The grant provided tuition assistance for twenty students per year, part-time clerical support, and stipend money for the community colleges to participate in the articulation aspect of the project.

Project staff worked to fit the certificate program into the existing bachelor’s degree program options. Students were advised to select the best degree option out of three: the Bachelor’s of Vocational Education (BVE), Bachelor’s of Science (BS), or Bachelor’s of Arts (BA), Interdisciplinary Major. Depending on their level of experience and specific career interest, students worked with an advisor to match the transition program requirements with the appropriate degree program.

When the program began, it was expected that recruits would come mainly from the pool of vocational teachers who typically enrolled in the Department of Occupational Studies credential and bachelor’s degree programs. During the first semester of program operation, approximately one-third of enrolled students were, in fact, vocational teachers who had an interest in working with students with special needs. This pattern changed over the years and soon the transition student pool consisted of only a few vocational teachers. Instead, we were drawing in large numbers of paraprofessionals from public schools and adult service agencies. Five years later, more than 90% of the student population were paraprofessionals working in special and vocational education and adult services. The shift in the student population required a major restructuring of the program design. The Bachelor’s of Vocational education degree, specifically designed for vocational teachers, became less appropriate for many transition services students since they did not meet the intensive occupational experience requirement for that degree.4 Two strategies were implemented in response: 1) the BVE degree program requirements were modified at the State and institutional levels and 2) a new degree program was developed.

When the transition services program began, the vocational instructors who enrolled were able to use their prior vocational experience to qualify for the BVE degree program.

It was not unusual for students to have fifteen to twenty years of experience in an occupational area and five or more years of teaching experience. As previously mentioned, the transition student profile began to change as the program became more widely known and soon students who were less experienced in a trade area, but more experienced in working with special populations were enrolling in the program. The Associate Director, who was also a member of the State Board of Vocational Examiners, was instrumental in adapting the Swan Bill (see note) process to accommodate the experience and background of paraprofessionals who worked with persons with disabilities.

This new breed of Swan Bill applicants often came to the university program with twenty years of experience as well; however, their experience was not in one trade area but comprised a range of occupational roles. Also, their teaching experience was non-traditional; often they taught pre-employment, independent-living skills, or supervised community-based training in a variety of entry-level jobs. In other cases, they were coordinating special programs in addition to their teaching responsibilities and their “teaching” included on-going contact with employers, community agencies, and families of persons with disabilities. In short, the students coming into the transition program were already performing the role of the transition specialist, although they had no formal training. The State Board of Examiners recognized the critical role of these paraprofessionals in delivering services and providing employment training for persons with disabilities and was cooperative in modifying the application process to include these non-traditional “vocational” educators.

As a result, many paraprofessionals coming through the program during the first several years were granted “Swan Bill” units (in some cases, the maximum 40 units). This degree option was extremely attractive to mature students who had extensive experience in the field but who needed the degree to advance professionally. Later, as younger, less experienced students entered the program, the BVE, even as revised, was not always the appropriate degree option. At first, students who did not meet the criteria for the BVE were advised to plan a BA program with an interdisciplinary major or “Special Major” program as it is known. A popular combination of majors for transition students was occupational studies and educational psychology. This more traditional degree allowed the student to complete a forty-unit major comprising courses from both departments. This interdisciplinary BA program is a university-wide program and was directed by a university-appointed advisor. Although the entrance requirements for this degree program are complex, several students per year opted for this degree.

Another option for students who did not meet the BVE requirements was the BS degree in vocational education. Designed originally as a program for industrial trainers, the BS degree was not suitable for transition students. After several attempts to make multiple course substitutions that essentially revamped the entire BS degree, program staff acknowledged the need to formally establish a degree option designed specifically for transition services students.

The new degree program content and structure were based on several concurrent and intersecting developments÷ample feedback from internal review and evaluation measures, results of a national study of transition services training competency needs, external funding from the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, and faculty recognition within the Department of Occupational Studies that major revision of the BS degree was long overdue.

As the program evolved, and the transition services competencies were developed and validated, the program content was revised substantially. A new course, Techniques of Job Coaching (OCST 260), was developed and approved and two others÷Performance-based Assessment in the Classroom and Community and Techniques of Job Development÷were offered as experimental courses. These courses are expected to be institutionalized as of this publication. With subsequent funding, and as a result of continued internal and external program review, we began work to institutionalize a separate transition services option within the Bachelor of Science degree in Occupational Studies. This degree option underwent formal approval processes and was approved in 1996.

Along with the adoption of new coursework and the establishment of a separate degree option in the BS program for transition services program undergraduates, we endeavored to integrate the transition competencies across selected department of occupational studies courses. Specifically, key themes such as multiculturalism, collaboration among agencies , and self-determination were identified as areas that need to be addressed within our vocational education courses for all (including non-transition services) students. Ideally, the integration process will be extended to other department from which transition students take coursework, i.e. social work, home economics, educational psychology.


While program articulation was being completed at all of the participating sites, other project outgrowths developed. Three years after the inception of the collaborative curriculum development effort in 1991, CSULB mounted a new grant-funded training program as an extension of the original undergraduate transition services training program. The Career Advancement Training (CAT) Program was established to focus on training people of color in transition services and to support their progress towards full special education certification. The CAT program was developed in response to the critical shortage of special educators in the state, with a special emphasis on increasing the numbers of special educators of color.

Several recruitment and retention strategies were devised to accomplish the project goal of training nine students of color per year for five years through the CSULB Transition Services Training Program. The purpose of these strategies were to provide the necessary support, individualized program planning, and advisement to facilitate their progress toward full special education certification. These strategies include tuition support and a stipend for two years, a peer advocate support system, a winter and summer bridge program, and articulation with the post-baccalaureate special education credential program. A key program feature was to utilize and build upon the existing network of articulated training programs as a way to enhance recruitment and retention of students of color at various points in their education and careers.

Creating Training Site Hubs

The original collaborative team members were identified in the new CAT program as Site Advisors, who are responsible for identifying outstanding students of color interested in becoming special education teachers and referring them to the next educational level when appropriate. Since the Site Advisors were positioned differently at their institutions, their roles as Site Advisors varied accordingly. For example, at the ROPâs, both Site Advisors were Job Coach class instructors. Thus, their direct involvement with students was naturally suited for a mentoring relationship. These Site Advisors work closely with selected students and ensure their access to the articulated programs. Also, both team members are active statewide in transition and recruited students into the program through their professional affiliations.

The role of the three community college Site Advisors varied according to their position at the college. The Disabled Student Placement Specialist at Mt. San Antonio College works with disabled students seeking services at the college who may or may not be interested in transition related careers. Prior to the establishment of the transition program, she was not involved in academic programming and had limited access to students across campus. However, as an active member of several state programs serving the disabled, her network enabled her to recruit individuals from outside of the college and inform them of the various options available through the CAT program. As Site Advisor, her contact with Disabled Student Services staff and other student support personnel enabled her to recruit, advise, and refer students to the CAT program.

The Department Chair of the Human Development Department at Rancho Santiago College served primarily in an administrative role. As an administrator, her role as Site Advisor involved promoting the program to her department and in facilitating the formal curriculum approval and articulation processes. The Special Programs and Services Coordinator for the Disabled served as the Coastline Community College Site Advisor. She was involved directly with student interns whom she referred to the CAT program when appropriate. As the initial instructor of the articulated job coach class and supervisor of other related instructional programs, she was able to advise and refer students in her role as Site Advisor.

The career-ladder approach to training enables paraprofessionals to make progress toward their professional and education goals in an efficient and rewarding manner. Job opportunities, professional conferences, workshops, and intern positions are examples of the types of experiences available to students through their contacts with the Site Advisors. Early and accurate advisement about general education, transfer and credential requirements, and admissions and registration procedures are ways that Site Advisors can support students over the long haul.

The primary role of the Site Advisor is to serve as a contact person, a friendly face that students can feel comfortable talking to about career plans, professional opportunities, and difficulties that they are experiencing at school and/or work. Having a friend at a large institution can make all the difference for students facing the bureaucratic complexities of transferring and program planning. Often the Site Advisors’ role is to refer students to other staff or faculty at the college for academic advising or registration information. The Site Advisors provided the critical human link between the six institutions.

Site Advisor Manuals were provided to assist the Site Advisors with program requirements and referral guidelines. It is a fluid document, in that its contents are being constantly revised as new program information is disseminated from each of the sites. Course outlines, admissions requirements, and program benefits and services are among the items included in the manual. It is updated during monthly project meetings. Each Site Advisor creates a yearly Site Action Plan that outlines recruiting approaches, i.e. linkages with EOP Office, Students Services, related departments, community affiliations, retention strategies, and program development ideas. Essentially, these tools enabled the collaborative team members to establish procedures within their present roles to communicate the career-ladder options for students and to expand and refine their transition programs.

Creating Linkages For Student Retention

The network of articulated training programs provided a natural support system for students interested in career advancement. However, as the team pursued the career-ladder concept, it became clear that some inter-agency operational processes needed to be worked out. A systematic program planning and assessment process for students was viewed as being an essential component. The team agreed that the set of training competencies used to create the articulated curriculum could be adapted as an assessment and planning tool and subsequently created the Career Portfolio for this purpose.

The Career Portfolio uses the competencies as a way for students to conduct a self-assessment of their skills before, during, and upon completion of their total program. Using the portfolio approach, students can also document evidence of attainment of specific competencies. Items such as job experience descriptions and workshops attended, as well as specific courses and academic projects can be used to illustrate skill development or proficiency. By reviewing the Career Portfolio with students, Site Advisors can assist with program planning and career advisement. Later, the Career Portfolio can be used to present an in-depth description of skills and accomplishments to employers. The career portfolio is a powerful communication tool for students but also assists the Site Advisors in assessing the skill level of students entering their program from the other articulated sites. The Site Advisors can then individualize the students’ programs to avoid duplication of coursework and to provide extra skill enhancement where needed.

Although the CAT program is structured in three program levels, i.e. regional occupational program, community college, and university, in reality, students rarely follow that chronological pattern of training. Students may take a course at the ROP after having completed their general education or associate’s degree at a community college and then decide to come to the university. It is not uncommon for university students to concurrently attend the community college to complete their general education and university transition courses on a part-time basis. A set of referral guidelines was established for the site advisors.

These are shown below in Table 1.

Student BackgroundReferral
AA degree, experience and demonstrated commitment to pursuing transition/special education careerCSULB
Some college coursework, demonstrated English proficiency, several years of experience in the field and commitment to pursuing transition/special education careerCSULB or Community College
No prior college coursework, entry-level experience in field, i.e. job coach or job coach training.Community College /ROP
No prior college coursework, no specific transition experience, interest in education, human services career.ROP

To encourage students who are potential candidates for the CAT program, but who are not ready for admission in to the CSULB program, a Conditional Acceptance procedure was developed. To be eligible, students must be recommended by a Site Advisor, be interviewed by the CSULB Program Coordinator, and make a formal application to the program. The conditional acceptance assures students of placement into the tuition reimbursed program after they have completed the program entry requirements (at least one year of related job experience and one year of college coursework including demonstrated written English proficiency). With the conditional acceptance, students are also eligible to enroll in the Summer or Winter Bridge Program.

The Bridge Program, a 1-unit course offered through Extension Services, is an orientation to Careers in Special Education and Transition Services and is restricted to new CAT students. Program content includes a program orientation, initial work on the Career Portfolio, guest speakers, readings about current developments in the field, self-awareness instruction, an orientation to campus resources, and an orientation by the Special Education Credential Coordinator. The Bridge Program is an opportunity for CAT students to get to know each other, project personnel, and the campus. All accepted and conditionally accepted students, including high school seniors, are eligible to attend.

Articulation With Special Education (Graduate) Program

Because the CAT program is specifically aimed at recruiting students who are pursuing special education certification, the program is articulated with the graduate program in special education. These students are able to take up to three, lower-division classes as part of their bachelor’s degree program that will also apply to their post-bachelor’s certification program. The special education credential program coordinator introduces the program, as well as career opportunities in special education during the Bridge program. As students near graduation they are advised to schedule a meeting with the special education credential coordinator to plan the next stage of their program.

Since the CAT program began, several changes in the state special education credential regulations have facilitated the career advancement of paraprofessionals who wish to become certified. Effective January 1992, the state no longer requires a basic teaching (multiple subjects or designated subject) credential as a prerequisite for the special education certification. Those who wish to teach special education may move directly into the special education credential program upon completion of their bachelor’s degree. Students who have completed their bachelor’s degree in vocational education with a transition services specialization will have an opportunity to waive or substitute coursework based on an individualized assessment. These revisions to the special education credential program will take approximately two years to implement. During the interim period, CAT graduates may progress toward the credential under “experimental program” status.

In concert with the changes occurring in special education certification, the California Commission on Teaching Credentials enacted legislation in October 1993 that enables vocational educators to substitute the vocational designated subjects credential for the basic teaching credential if they wish to become certified to teach special education. Whereas the basic teaching credential is no longer required under the aforementioned revision, this new law facilitates career-ladder progress during the interim phase of program restructuring. Both of these changes are in direct response to the critical shortage of special educators and should greatly enhance the career mobility of paraprofessionals in the CAT Program.

Providing Support For Students

Several support strategies have been developed to enhance the retention of students who are participating in the CAT program. First, students of color received tuition reimbursement for two years of full-time study (up to $3,150). A stipend of $1,000 is awarded to students in four payments of $250 at the completion of each successful semester to be used for books, transportation, or other related educational expenses. Student performance is evaluated each semester to determine eligibility for continued funding. Program evaluation data have indicated that this financial assistance is critical for the CAT students, many of whom are single parents and supporting families on modest incomes.

Because the typical CAT student is a re-entry adult who is unfamiliar and perhaps intimidated by a large university, a Peer Advocate Program was developed to assist students with acclimatization to campus life.New students are paired up with students at advanced stages or program graduates on the basis of career interests, backgrounds, and (sometimes) personality. Entering students often express anxiety and insecurity about their ability to perform and function at the university. Individual counseling and frequent contact with an advisor was mentioned as an important feature of the CAT program in the program evaluation. The Peer Advocate Program, which links students with a more confident peer, allows for more individualized attention for incoming students.

The peer advocates are recommended by faculty on the basis of their academic and professional accomplishments, as well as their interpersonal skills. The selected individuals are invited to an orientation session during which the role and responsibilities of the peer advocate are discussed.

Peer advocates must commit to working with students for one year. They are required to develop a contract with the student to clarify expectations and areas in need of help. They also develop a schedule of visits and/or phone contacts. Recommendations from the literature include three critical features of successful mentoring programs: frequency of contact, clarity of purpose, and opportunities for reflection on the process. Both advocates and students are encouraged to report on their experiences through surveys, interviews, logs, and informal feedback to the program coordinator. Examples of specific activities that advocates and students have been engaged in have included attending conferences together, help with academics (writing and exam preparation), and visits to job sites. Occasionally, an inappropriate match occurs and students will be reassigned to work with a new advocate. Peer advocates are paid a stipend of $200 and recognized at an annual awards ceremony.

Students are encouraged to avail themselves of the wide array of services and resources that exist campus-wide. The Learning Assistance Center, Disabled Student Services, Career Counseling Center, and financial aide are some of the services that students are referred to for extra help. A compilation of campus services is available in the Department Office and includes many cultural and special interest group organizations. Through the network of articulated programs, the site advisors share information about services and internship opportunities for students in the multi-agency program.

Directions For The Future

Now that the various degrees program options for transition services have been established at the university, we have begun to focus our work in several directions. First, the highly successful paraeducator certificate training program at the ABC district has increasingly drawn state and national attention. We have now expanded the program into another two districts (Bellflower and San Juan Capistrano) and are presently negotiating with two more school districts for a Spring 1999 start-up date. Second, while this certificate program has been very responsive to basic training needs, graduating paraeducators are telling us that an additional next-step course is needed to help them move into other appropriate training programs on the career ladder (e.g., community college degree programs and university degree programs). Hence, we have initiated discussions with ABC personnel and the Director at the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services to consider a sequel to our present offering. At this point, such a course looks like it will contain a very concentrated focus on individual advisement and career transitioning.

Our third direction is to continue to foster the collaborative teamwork we have done over the past decade. However, rather than promoting university sponsored program development, we are now very interested in helping our collaborative institutions with important program initiatives in transition services. For example, within the collaborative we recently met to consider submitting a joint proposal to the Fund for Improvement of Post-secondary Education in the U.S. Department of Education. We fully anticipate that one of our community colleges will be the lead agencies, with the remaining members of our collaborative being contributors to the proposed initiative which could well be focused on the paraeducator career need noted in the preceding paragraph. This direction is viewed as essential if we are to maintain our progress on building institutional capacity within and across the collaborative institutions and remain responsive to the career needs of our diverse group of consumers.


Recounting the development of this program has provided a clear example of Palumbo’s use of the term “retrospective rationality” for describing the process of organizational change. While there was always a plan and rationale for the implementation and institutionalization of the career ladder program for paraeducators, the goals and vision guiding that plan were altered significantly over time. As we worked to put our program in place, real student needs and structural obstacles continually shaped our decisions and strategies.

The model for change became an on-going process of negotiating what we wanted to do and what was possible to do, given the usual constraints of time, resources, and bureaucracies. Over the seven years that elapsed during the program’s development, changes in credential policy, federal and state legislation, personnel, and labor markets were some of the forces that both disrupted and fueled our efforts.

We started out with the goal of developing a model of articulated training programs for paraeducators at the secondary and post-secondary levels (two-year and four-year colleges). What we have accomplished instead, is the institutionalization of a bachelor’s degree program for paraeducators in transition services at California State University, Long Beach and an articulated outreach program with three school districts. We learned that the most effective way to recruit participants and to meet local training needs was to develop partnerships with local school districts that employ paraeducators. We learned that by bringing our training program to the source of training need (rather than an educational institution, such as a community college), we were more likely to garner support for and interest in the program.

Collaboration was and continues to be the most critical part of the change process. In working with school districts, collaboration with district administrators, union representatives, paraeducators, and teachers was essential in building a program that would work. On the university end, we enlisted the support of University College and Extension Services to design a program that would link nonacademic and academic training. We drew from our pool of program participants to provide training–one paraeducator from the ABC School District who recently graduated with her bachelor’s degree is presently the student advisor at the University. Another graduate of the program has gone on to pursue a master’s degree and has co-taught the paraeducator certificate program. Plans to co-sponsor a statewide conference with the California School Employees Association in Spring 1999 and the award of a three-year grant from the Department of Education to develop the partnerships with the participation districts and to expand the program continue the collaborative effort. On-going collaboration with the National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services has kept the goals of the program in line with national standards in policy and practice.


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Palumbo, D. J. (1985). Forward: Future directions for research in policy studies. In Organizational Theory and Inquiry: The Paradigm Revolution. Yvonna s. Lincoln (Editor). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Pickett, A. L. (1989). Restructuring the schools: The Role of Paraprofessionals. Washington, D.C. Center for Policy Research, National Governor’s Association.

Pascarella, E. T. & Terenzini, P. T. (1991). How College Affects Students. San Francisco:


Safarik, L., Prather, M., Hanson, G., Guzman, G., Ryan, C., & Schwan, D. (1991). A career-ladder program for transition services personnel: A collaborative curriculum development approach. Unpublished manuscript, Department of Occupational Studies, California State University, Long Beach.

Lynn Safarik can be contacted at (562) 431-5716 or via e-mail at

1 East San Gabriel Valley Regional Occupational Program, (West Covina, CA); and Coastline Regional Occupational Program (Costa Mesa, CA).

2 Mt. San Antonio College (Walnut, CA); Rancho Santiago College (Santa Ana, CA); and Coastline Community College (Costa Mesa, CA), Cypress College (Cypress, CA).

3 ABC Unified School District, Cerritios, CA, Bellflower Unified School District, Lakewood, CA and San Juan Capistrano Unified School District, San Juan Capistrano, CA.

4 The Bachelor’s of Vocational Education (BVE) degree program is a non-traditional in that many students may obtain academic credit for work and teaching experience. The process for completing this degree requires application to the State Board of Examiners for Vocational Teachers (California State Department of Education). Based on the Swan Bill, state legislation passed in 1943, vocational educators who have a least seven years experience in an occupational field plus 1,620 hours of full-time teaching (or 1,000 hours part-time teaching) and are state credentialed vocational instructors can qualify for the degree.This degree recognizes the prior educational, technical, instructional, and professional experience of the adult student. The application process is highly structured; students compile a portfolio in which the State Board evaluates hours, years, and months of experience both quantitatively and qualitatively two times a year. Students receiving the BVE are required to complete the state- and university-mandated general education requirements as well as departmentally established vocational education requirements for the 124-unit degree.Students may be granted up to 40 units through the Swan Bill process. However, many adult students enter their program with a significant number of transfer units from other institutions and Swan Bill units are often satisfying the students elective unit requirements.