On Competence: A Critical
Analysis of Competence-Based Reforms in Higher Education
Gerald Grant, et al.
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1979, pp. 299-334
Chapter 9: Creating a Nontraditional College for New Careers: The College
for Human Services, by Gerald Grant
The quarters of the College for Human Services are properly unprepossessing.
As befits honest reformers, the place is frugal, a bit drab, and hand-me-down.
Most of its 200 students are mothers who have been on welfare, although in recent
years there has been a slight increase in the number of men who have come to
the college. About 60 percent of the students are black, 25 percent are Spanish-American,
12 percent are Polish-American (most of them recent immigrants), and the rest
are other white or Oriental. Two mornings a week they come out of a subway at
Varick and Houston streets in lower Manhattan and enter a sooty building. On
the eleventh floor they turn down a hall lined with offices that have been converted
to classrooms. Some rooms have bright rugs, but there are few luxuries. A library
of several thousand volumes is at one end of the hall; nearby is a student lounge
with a few chairs and tables, but the students do little lounging because the
two days they spend at the college are filled with classes and conferences from
8:30 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. The other three days of the week they are employed as
interns in schools, hospitals, social work agencies, museums, and a variety
of other training positions that comprise what the college calls the human services.
The college was created by Audrey Cohen, a determined visionary and radical.
She is shrewd, tough -- although suave when necessary -- and a fighter. She
still bristles at the mention of a New Republic article by Joseph Featherstone
that claimed the college "was started by a handful of reformist middle-class
ladies with the idea of training poor women for jobs as assistants to professionals"
(1969, p. 1). Featherstone is partly right, although Cohen, as an egalitarian,
resented being identified with a privileged class. She is reminiscent of the
settlement house reformers of the nineteenth century and their notion of noblesse
oblige; in her emphasis on service and practical competence and her criticism
of traditional universities, she has much in common with Jane Addams and Lillian
Wald. Yet her aims, which involve the reform of the professions at large and
of higher education in particular, are even more ambitious than theirs.
Cohen was born in Pittsburgh and graduated in 1953 from the University of Pittsburgh
with a degree in political science. She taught high school for three years,
was active in the civil rights movement in Washington, D.C., and pursued graduate
studies at George Washington University. In 1958 she founded Part-Time Research
Associates, utilizing the talents of more than 200 married women in the Washington
area to do research tasks for a variety of clients, and the experience proved
to be an early illustration that performance does not necessarily correlate
with credentials. When her husband changed jobs, she moved to New York and in
1964 founded the Women's Talent Corps, turning her energies away from the employment
of suburban housewives to the placement of low-income black women in burgeoning
In 1966, the Women's Talent Corps received a grant from the federal Office of
Economic Opportunity not only to train these women but to create permanent jobs
for them in the human service sector, beginning as paraprofessionals. At that
time, the college did not talk so much about transforming the professions as
it did about reducing the antagonism between professionals and the poor neighborhoods
they were supposed to serve, although the seeds of its later emphasis on social
change can be found even in its early history. Of the 120 women accepted for
the initial program, 113 completed a thirty-week training cycle and were subsequently
employed. The college was especially proud that it established a foothold
for "new careers" in several agencies, as well as in schools where
the title "educational assistant" was created to denote the pedagogical
responsibilities of the women from the talent corps in contrast to nonteaching
community aides. At the time, the college was convinced it had achieved an important
goal by helping to create such new positions as case aide, lay therapist, and
community liaison assistant, and felt these would be first rungs on career ladders,
not dead-end, nose-wiping jobs.
The core faculty were described in a 1968 report as "hardheaded do-gooders"
-- women who, as volunteers and mothers, had had enough experience with incompetence
among professionals to be unawed by credentials and jargon.' **Most of the twenty
faculty were white, perhaps one third were Jewish. There were two blacks and
one Puerto Rican among them, including the vice-president, Laura Pires Houston,
a Cape Verdean who had graduated from Smith College and earned a master's degree
in social work at Columbia. Most of the white women had backgrounds in education
or social work (only three had degrees in the field), and there were two lawyers
and a few former journalists among them. Several were married to ministers or
had studied theology. There were no men in the major administrative posts, and
when we visited the college in 1970 we observed that lines of authority seemed
more loose and relaxed than would be typical of most male-dominated organizations.
Toward a Breakthrough
In those first years, the college laid the foundation for a new faculty role,
that of the "coordinating teacher" who divided her time between supervising
students on the job and, more importantly, acting as an advocate for students
in establishing career ladders. A student assigned to a legal services office,
for example, might begin with responsibilities no weightier than filing papers
or answering the telephone. As the student learned more in class and on the
job, the faculty member would negotiate increased responsibilities, such as
legal research or initial client interviews. Eventually, in successful cases,
the student would receive increased pay and a redefinition of job. Coordinating
teachers also sought to identify supervisors at the agencies as potential "teachers"
for the students: the college expected the agency to help make the job a learning
experience. Since the students were supported by federal training grants (now
by funds from the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act through the City
of New York), the college gained leverage with the agency by making students
available as "free" labor for the first year of training, after which
the agency assumed half the cost. And although the college was founded in the
days of Lindsay optimism, it has been able to continue operating in an era of
Beame and Koch budgets. It believes that the need for preparing "human
service workers" continues to be acute, projecting a demand for millions
of additional jobs to provide adequate education, health care, and recreational
services. (For data cited by the college here, see Pearl, 1973.)
In 1967, the college added a second year to its training program, and in 1968,
applied to New York State for a college charter with authority to grant the
associate of arts degree. The Department of Higher Education rejected the application
on the grounds that most of the college's students had not graduated from high
school, its faculty did not possess advanced degrees nor sufficient college
teaching experience, and it did not have an adequate library or endowment. The
students' median age was thirty-seven, and most scored below ninth-grade level
on tests of verbal and mathematical ability. The reviewing officers praised
the "social effectiveness of this dedicated and imaginative group of women,"
but concluded that the Women's Talent Corps lacked the essential characteristics
of a degree-granting institution.
Although such a decision is usually regarded as final, Cohen chose to ignore
the door that had been shut in her face. Noting that technically the decision
was not binding on the final authority, the New York Board of Regents, she began
a campaign for approval at that level. She asked for a review of the college's
program by Alvin Eurich's Academy for Educational Development, which subsequently
recommended its approval as a degree-granting institution. She also hired a
lawyer to contest the endowment requirement. Some concessions were made to demands
for specialist faculty within the college's interdisciplinary structure. Not
least, the college initiated a broad campaign to generate political and educational
On the matter of admissions standards, the college argued that job performance
did not necessarily correlate with previous credentials and that students should
be admitted without regard to previous formal education if they could pass basic
reading and math tests. In response to criticism that the college did not adequately
evaluate student performance, the Educational Testing Service `(ETS )' was asked
to advise whether tests had been developed that could be adapted to the college's
program. When the ETS experts could furnish none, the college cited this as
evidence of the need for it to develop new measures of student performance.
Internally, some faculty and students opposed seeking degree status; they feared
that bending to bureaucratic requirements would mean sacrificing freedom to
experiment. But other students were equally strong in their desire to obtain
the "piece of paper" that opened doors in a diploma-conscious society.
When it was suggested that the charter campaign would be an ideal project for
the final unit of the first-year curriculum on social change, faculty members
took sides. Some argued that the best way to learn about social change was to
participate in an effort to win college status for themselves; others opposed
the campaign on the grounds that it upset curriculum plans and coerced students.
In the end a compromise was reached in which students could choose among several
action projects. Many participated in the charter effort, organizing letterwriting
campaigns, seeking support for the college in agencies where they worked, and
collecting petitions. In 1970, the board of regents provisionally approved a
college charter and the right to grant the associate degree for a period of
Although buoyed by the successful charter campaign, the college was coming to
realize that its early enthusiasm about establishing new routes to professional
careers was naive. Although it was suc cessful in getting women off welfare
and employed in paraprofessional positions, the college was forced to conclude
that its hoped-for career ladders were largely illusory. Some of its "paraprofessional"
graduates were hard to distinguish from the professionals with whom they worked -- apart
from the size of their paychecks. Yet they found that the career ladders had
too many steps and bumped into very low ceilings. The associate degree would
help some graduates overcome hurdles to advancement on the job, but the college
realized that it must not just find new pathways to advancement for its graduates
but change both the pathways and the professions. A change in consciousness
about the nature of the training the college wanted to give was occurring. Less
emphasis would now be put on the concept of training paraprofessionals as helpers
who could move upward in traditional channels, and more would be given to the
idea that the helping professions themselves needed major reform if they were
to emphasize "humane service." The college would uphold its primary
mission of promoting integration and "opening up the system" to minorities,
but it would be "equally concerned with changing human service institutions
so that they become more responsive to human needs. The more the college works
in this area, the clearer it becomes that the shortcomings of the present system
affect the public at large, and that basic changes are needed in the way service
is delivered to everyone. . . . To this end, it will seek to create a new kind
of credential, a two-year professional degree based on a definition that emphasizes
humane performance rather than simply academic knowledge" (College for
Human Services, 1972, p. 64).
The new emphasis that Cohen was putting on reforming the professions by seeking
authority to grant a full professional certificate (and eventually a master's
degree) created major tensions. When the college added a second year to its
original thirty-week program, it hired more black and Spanish-speaking male
faculty, some of whom opposed the move to a new credential, believing the college
should concentrate on the more limited goal of "opening the system"
to minorities. Students petitioned for three days of classes a week, saying
two days were insufficient to improve their deficiencies in English and math.
Members of the student council accused Cohen of being a politician who had duped
outside agencies into thinking she was an innovative educator. "We do not
want the College for Human Services to grant us a master's degree in two years
when many of us feel we need remedial work," the students wrote. "We
feel Mrs. Cohen has hit upon a great idea . . . that new routes in education
should be carved out and performance should be as important as academic achievement.
But she has made a joke of her own ideas. Our training is shabby, our academic
classes are poor, and once again we feel we have been taken advantage of."
When Cohen fired the black director of the second-year program in 1972, charges
of racism were raised, a boycott ensued, and some faculty resigned, as did the
black chairman of the board of trustees. Cohen's resignation was demanded, and
the faculty strike committee urged her replacement by a black or Puerto Rican
president. Unlike many white liberals who have caved in under such demands,
Cohen replied by answering her opponents' specific charges and noting the acceptance
of the college's program by many agencies; she pointedly informed dissident
faculty that the demand for her resignation was based on considerations of color,
not performance; she hired a lawyer to defend her in the grievance hearings
that were being pursued by the dismissed director; and when she was upheld,
she proceeded to fire more than a dozen members of the faculty.
During this period, the college began to pay more attention to training in
basic skills and to pursue more seriously a master's degree program. While continuing
to recruit poor minority students, it also set out to raise entrance requirements.
Although a diploma was not required, students increasingly had the equivalent
of a high school education, and some had spent a year or more in community
colleges. Starting salaries for new faculty rose from $8,500 to $13,500.
The new emphasis on basic skills was also influenced by the college's experience
with the Legal Service Assistant program. A joint venture with Columbia University
Law School, this was one of the most carefully investigated programs undertaken
by the college. Students in the legal aid program spent one third of their time
at the college, in its interdisciplinary core curriculum, one third at Columbia
in courses in legal skills and analysis with special emphasis on so-called poverty
law (welfare family law, landlordtenant actions), and one third on the job
as practicing legal aides. Of the twenty-three students initially accepted in
the program, eighteen completed the first year. Sixteen of these were offered
jobs and eleven of those sixteen continued to hold their jobs for the second
year. Nine received special merit increases in the offices where they worked.
Six of those hired for the second year earned considerable independence, frequently
handling routine cases up to the point of courtroom appearance, when an attorney
took over. Five performed limited legal tasks under close supervision, and five
others worked as clerical aides and messengers (one operated a switchboard).
The program thus made clear that some minority students with only grade school
skills at entrance could rise in two years of an intensive program to perform
"professional" roles. On the other hand, poor work habits and repeated
lateness and absences constituted a major problem for five of the sixteen aides
and a minor problem for four others. Only about one fourth of the students reached
a professional level. (See Statsky, 1969 and 1970; also "Legal Service
Despite the success of the legal service program, the college decided to terminate
it and to put its effort into developing new performance standards for a generic
profession of human service. In effect, it ruled out the more specialized professions,
such as law or medicine, and concentrated on social work, guidance and counseling,
education, and other areas where there is no clearly defined or highly structured
knowledge base underlying practice.
In a typically prescient essay Nathan Glazer (1974a) has noted that the schools
that train social workers, teachers, city planners, or ministers have been dubbed
"professional schools" by courtesy, since they do not rest on the
same base of special or technical knowledge as the classic professions of law
and medicine. These schools have courted status by replacing practitioners with
scholars and researchers. Thus schools of education are increasingly staffed
by psychologists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers rather than by
master teachers or practitioners. But sociologists and psychologists may be
more interested in their specialties than in the quality of service that practitioners
deliver, and the most useful training for the "minor professions"
of education and social work takes place on the job, despite clear and important
links to the academic disciplines.
The problem faced by the College for Human Services was how to shape a curriculum
that would draw on the disciplines in a way that would permit performance or
competence-based evaluation on the job. The college believed from the beginning
that all work with people involves basic similarities and depends on a common
store of concepts and techniques. But if professional standing in the minor
professions was not tied to specialized knowledge in the traditional sense,
what, then, was the basis for judging the competence of the human service professional?
For the next several years, the college attempted to answer the question stated
most cogently by Laura Houston: "What does `professional' really mean in
terms of service, of results?" (1970).
Medicine and law had answered that (1) initial entry into a profession must
be controlled by certification through professional schools, and (2) only other
professionals who possess the specialized knowledge and the privileged access
to information about clients can judge the competence of practitioners. The
college and other critics of the professions have argued that certification
procedures in professional schools are inadequate because they rely on grades
and formal requirements although research studies have shown that grades (except,
perhaps, in the field of engineering) rarely relate to occupational success.
(See Jencks and others, 1972.) Initial entry, they claim, has sometimes been
unfairly restricted to protect a profit monopoly as much as to protect standards.
They argue that lax supervision of some self-interested professionals has resulted
in inadequate protection for clients as well as increased isolation from standards
of humane service. (Anderson, 1973, gives support to this view.)
Thus, the college has attempted to devise an assessment system that includes
clients as well as professionals, faculty, and student peers.
In the fall of 1971, after the decision had been made to pursue a professional
certificate, the faculty organized itself into five committees: education, daycare,
drug therapy, social work, and health professions. Each of these committees
included some persons from the agencies where students had been placed. Each
group attempted to define a standard of professional competence in that field,
drawn from their own experience in supervision and observation, on the basis
of job descriptions, association statements, licensing requirements, and performance.
By the spring of 1972, however, the faculty expressed frustration that they
were not getting at generic "competencies." So in an effort to define
the professional competence of humane human service workers, the college turned
to empirical research and retained David McClelland, the Harvard social psychologist,
and his private research firm, the McBer Company, as consultants. McClelland
had recently written an article, "Testing for Competence Rather than for
Intelligence" (1973), that appealed to the college in part because it argued
that generic subsets of personal attributes underlying competence could be defined.
The study done for the college by the McBer Company was an important step toward
building a new competence-based curriculum. The company's research did not involve
direct observation but relied on an analysis of ten critical incidents or events
described by sixty-two exemplary human service workers who were selected by
the college on the basis of its own observations in various agencies. While
not imputing any "superior knowledge of professional performance"
to the college, the company argued that the "college alone can define its
mission" and that it was appropriate for them to define it in terms of
producing practitioners resembling the sixty-two regarded as exemplary by the
As a result of its analysis, the McBer Company derived the following seven competencies
(Dailey and others, 1974):
- Strong faith that human needs can and must be met
- that every client can change and grow
- that attitude change is possible and is itself worthwhile
- that you can get the system to adjust to the needs of the individual
at least some of the time
- Ability to identify correctly the human problem
- by being a good listener and observer
- by being able to get other people to talk openly and freely
- Ability to arrive at realistic, achievable goals in collaboration with
- Imaginativeness in thinking of solutions to problems
- through use of own human relations skills
- through knowledge of resources and regulations
- Persistence in pursuing solutions, often against hostile authorities
- Ability to remain task-oriented under stress, hostility
- Skills in getting interested parties to work together to arrive at common
As an example, the fifth competence of "persistence in pursuing solutions"
was the outcome of an aggregate of the following events cited in the critical
incidents: "Insisting on payments to a family with five children whose
benefits were cut off because their father had died; staying with a suicidal
person; reacting to direct and public criticism from immediate superior; overcoming
the board's unwillingness to invest in a program for the foreign born; recognizing
the gradualism inherent in changing a system by very sustained and patient effort;
working in an impossible multiagency system to help an intolerable and overwhelming
family situation in housing; facing overwhelming defeat." Many questions
may be raised about the validity of the McBer Company's methods and the value
of its findings, and the college did not adopt the report as such. Still, it
became the basis of continued discussion among the faculty and was an important
step toward the college's goal of basing its program on new definitions of competence
and on new professional models.
Operation of the New Curriculum
When the faculty met in the spring of 1974 to work on the concrete details of
the new curriculum for the class that would enter in the summer, the fruits
of the long months of searching for new definitions and new directions finally
began to be felt. After weeks of work, a light dawned, and two years later,
faculty were still speaking of the euphoria of the "breakthrough."
In retrospect, as in most quite complex matters, it seems rather simple. The
group members discovered that they had been talking about two different kinds
of competencies. On the one hand, students were asked to do something: "design
and implement a learning-helping environment" or "conduct human service
research." On the other hand, they were asked to concern themselves with
certain aspects of performance: consciousness of their own values, or understanding
the larger system within which an action was embedded. Thus the competencies
were a statement of actions or functions, as well as of values or dimensions.
It was the combination of the accomplishment with an awareness of its values
that constituted a professional performance. In a sense, the "breakthrough"
brought to awareness an aim as old as the sixteenthcentury Jesuit ideal, actione
contemplativus, acting with purpose and contemplative awareness. Like the
Jesuits, the college also emphasized the need to judge human action in its fullness:
"It is clear that the dimensions can only serve their purpose as a guide
to learning and assessment if they encompass every significant aspect of performance.
Any breakdown of performance into its supposed elements is, of course, artificial.
Knowledge, skills, attitudes, the components into which learning is most commonly
analyzed, are totally inappropriate for performance-based education because
they disregard the active interplay of insight, experience, judgment, purpose,
etc., that comprises a living performance. Instead of dealing in such rigid
categories, the college has tried to develop the dimensions as a filter that
makes it possible to focus on the various aspects of performance without forgetting
their relationship to the whole" (College for Human Service, 1974, p. 1:74).
This "whole" to be assessed by the college was called a "constructive
action." The curriculum, as the student would encounter it, was arranged
as a series of "constructive actions," and each student, in order
to "act as a change agent, planning, researching and promoting progress
to improve human service delivery," would concentrate his or her learning
and experience on a series of constructive actions demonstrating different facets
of competence. The performance grid summarizing this development, which has
remained the basic bible of the new curriculum, is shown in Figure 1, along
with sample facets of the curriculum related to each of the eight competencies
and five dimensions.
A "grid," no matter how neat it is or how much euphoria it induces,
is not sufficient to establish a new profession. Now several steps were taken.
The first was to use the new curriculum to seek authority from New York State
to grant a degree certifying its students as masters of human services. A profession
also needs wider recognition from funding sources, policy-making groups, educational
institutions, and other professions. In June 1974, the college brought together
a broad potential support group and made a simple announcement of a new profession
of the human services. The most prestigious supporters at the conference were
asked to form a task force to establish the new profession and win wider recognition
of it. Others were politely ignored.
In August, the college explained its new curriculum and the research on which
it was based in a two-volume proposal seeking the authority to grant the master's
degree. The proposal highlighted three fundamental propositions the program
was designed to test: '(1) that disadvantaged persons may be exceptionally qualified
to serve others with intelligence, purpose and humanity; (2) that a performance-based
program can prepare professionals in two rather than the usual five or six years;
(3) that a new profession, human services, can serve clients better by responding
to needs rather than within boundaries defined by traditional professions (1974,
p. 1:5). Let us examine the curriculum from the student's viewpoint.
In the summer of 1975, at an admission session conducted by Jan Powell, a college
counselor, and Pearl Daniels, the admissions director, one of the early arrivals
was Jose Morales, who had been born in Puerto Rico and had worked in a New York
shoe factory for twenty-three years. In March, when the factory had closed,
his children had urged him to return to school despite his age of fortyone,
and a friend who worked with his wife as a teacher's aide had told him about
the College for Human Services. Like the other seven applicants -- six Polish-speaking
applicants and one black -- who arrived for a group interview that morning,
he had survived an earlier screening. Powell and Daniels, in explaining the
history of the college, noted that it did not have the power to grant the master's
degree and that the agencies in which students would be placed were not legally
bound to hire them -- students thus could finish the program without acquiring
either a degree or a job. Daniels warned them of the demands and rigor of the
program, of the impact it would make on their lives and those of their families.
The women would need two babysitters -- one as backup for the other. The divorce
and separation rate of the students was high. They would receive a weekly stipend
of $99.75 and free dental care in the first year. In the second year, since
part of the cost would be paid by the agencies in the form of taxable salaries
they would in effect suffer a pay cut, and Daniels urged them to try to save
part of their stipend in the first year.
During the two-hour conversation that followed, students were invited to introduce
themselves, to say why they wanted to come to the college, and to ask about
any aspect of the program. Daniels and Powell responded candidly to questions,
but most of their attention was focused on the interaction of the participants.
Throughout the morning they evaluated candidates on the basis of eight criteria:
(1) general appearance (dress, grooming, manners) ; (2) communication ability
(listens to others, waits for them to finish, effectively expresses own ideas
and opinions) ; (3) relevancy of comments to group discussion (comprehension,
appropriateness, understanding of what is taking place in group) ; (4) attitudes
toward peers (interest in peer comments, openness to other points of view) ;
(5) attitude toward group leaders (interaction, attention, quality of relationship,
any hostility toward authority?) ; (6) expressed social concerns (awareness
of problems and solutions, knowledgeability, values, recognition of need for
change) ; (7) demonstrated potential for helping others (listening, evidence
of warmth and empathy) ; (8)' academic motivation (willingness to try, readiness
to see learning as a positive way to change society, others, and self). Daniels
and Powell made clear that the college sought insight into the attitudes and
motivation of potential students. Selection was made with a view toward the
main goal of the program, that is, the training of a highly motivated "humane"
worker who listens, has empathy, sees need for change, and has the determination
to get results.
Following the session, students spent the afternoon taking the college's own
examinations while the interviewers compared their ratings. Jose Morales was
appealing to both interviewers. They felt that this man who helped Spanish-speaking
people fill out forms in the welfare office, who listened and showed enthusiasm,
was "our kind of student." They admitted him at once. The examination
that the students took was homemade. No nationally standardized tests are given:
the college does not find these useful for its own diagnostic purposes, and
many of its applicants resent such tests. The college instead follows the principle
that even successful applicants should learn something from taking a test.
Hence the first reading comprehension question is a short article from the New
York Daily News that explains a simple test for diagnosing sickle-cell anemia,
a hereditary disease found almost exclusively among blacks. There are also excerpts
from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and an editorial by W. E. B. DuBois hailing
the black soldier of the First World War: "Out of this war will rise an
American Negro, with the right to vote and the right to work and the right to
live without insult."
The college's ideology seeps into the model answer sheet used to grade exams.
For example, on a twenty-five-word vocabulary test, the model answer for professional
is given as "someone who has competence and commitment to serve."
The word service is defined as "really helping." One of the questions
following the DuBois editorial asks whether students would make the same arguments
about the black soldier in the Vietnam War, and the answer sheet reads: "No.
He was fighting other people of color. If there is a right side, it is more
the Communists. There are no immediate benefits for the returning G.I. except
a small G.I. Bill." But questions cast in this way constituted less than
20 points on a 385-point scale. It would be misleading to interpret the test
principally as a device for screening out those with "incorrect"
political views. In fact, the college's bias is more like that of a religious
group seeking postulants who, having heard its call for service and social change,
will be good candidates for the college's "ideology of citizen empowerment."
The exam also includes questions about the college, based on the materials distributed
to students in advance and the explanations given to them in the admissions
session. It concludes with a short math quiz. Morales scored 315 (250 is passing),
displaying excellent comprehension but weak math skills. Of the eight, five
were accepted, two rejected, and one provisionally admitted. Two of those admitted
had a year of college, three were high school graduates, and Morales had completed
the eleventh grade.
The admissions process, like the college itself, is compassionate but tough.
Final admissions decisions are not made until the student completes a three-week
trial in class -- a true "performance test" -- since the college is not
only admitting a student but in effect is hiring him, since it acts as a proxy
for various agencies. This, of course, makes dismissal more difficult, since
to fail a student is essentially to "fire" him. But the college tries
not to shirk that responsibility. Although it grants wide access, it does not
guarantee exit. The reputation of the college rests on the performance of its
students, and while it takes chances, it cannot risk many disasters on the job.
"Become an effective learner and potential professional" is the simple
declaration students hear as they begin classes at the college. For most of
them, the idea that one can learn more or less effectively is a novel one, but
this, of course, is the "purpose dimension" of the "learning"
competence, as set forth in Figure 1: "Demonstrate your readiness to work
toward realizing your personal and professional goals and helping the college
fulfill its mission by joining the college as learner and potential professional."
Working on this first competency involves a course on the college and its unique
language of "performance grids" and "constructive actions."
In it, students are actually being asked if, on the basis of more detailed
knowledge of what the place is about, they are ready to make a contract to pursue
the college's goals. Particularly for students in a high-risk category (that
may mean recent parole on a felony charge for some), this is a moment of commitment
when they must decide if they "really want to get off the corner."
By the end of the four-week period devoted to the first competency, during
which they spend five days a week at the college, students must write a proposal
describing their personal goals over the next two years and outlining the steps
by which they will reach them. In the process, they must demonstrate an understanding
of how others will help them reach these goals (the "self and others"
dimension), that they understand how the college's aims contrast with those
of traditional professional education (the "systems" dimension), and
how they can "determine and rank long- and short-range goals and develop
alternative strategies for reaching them" (the problem-solving "skills"
dimension). Students keep a log or diary during this first competency unit,
which includes an exercise in assessing the values of the teachers they are
encountering in class. Students also read autobiographies showing contrasting
values and learning styles.
The remainder of the two-year program focuses on field placement, and the aggressive
negotiating strategy used by the college in finding placements was illustrated
on the day two staff mem bers, Ruth Messinger and Bonnie Hall, went to the Manhattan
Development Center to secure placements for fourteen students. They met with
the heads of several mental health facilities, including institutions for mentally
retarded children, community halfway houses, and mental health therapy centers.
Of the group, Dr. Alphonse Sorhaindo was perhaps the most favorably disposed
toward the college and was eager to have its students as interns. But others
around the table were more skeptical. After polite probing of the curriculum,
they voiced fears that shrinking budgets would force them to dismiss the college's
students at the end of the program. But at this point Messinger explained that
Audrey Cohen had negotiated with the associate commissioner of the Department
of Mental Hygiene in Albany. He had agreed to find funds and "job lines"
for fifty-five of her students at the completion of the twoyear program. Messinger
showed them a copy of that letter and promised that the college would hold the
commissioner -- not them -- responsible for the jobs. This was typical of the college's
strategy of negotiating job quotas at the highest level so that whenever possible
local agencies were relieved of the burden of justifying new budget positions.
Although such high-level endorsement is crucial, the college must still win
its way into individual agencies and obtain the director's signature on a seven-page
contract, the heart of which reads: "The college and the agency agree to
this relationship inorder to: a) develop appropriate new educational routes
into the human service profession; b) plan and implement training leading to
professional employment; c) jointly employ a system of performance-based assessment
criteria that will ensure professional competence; d)' initiate and implement
procedures for acquiring the academic degrees and certification that will assure
program graduates appropriate professional status; and e) provide skilled workers
who, both during the course of the program and thereafter, will improve, supplement
and expand human service delivery and demonstrate new and effective professional
The contract then spells out the agency's responsibilities and declares that
the college will help to devise the educational component of training on the
job and will make a determination of what portion of time over the two-year
period will be spent in work and what in study. By morning's end, the director,
who had been consistently doubtful, agreed to take four students personally
under his wing.
The most difficult and challenging task students face comes on the heels of
the four-week competency unit on becoming "an effective learner,"
during which students are at the college five days a week. But with the second
competency, ("establish professional relationships at the work site with
coworkers and citizens"), they begin to spend three days each week on the
job. In more than a few of the agencies that employ the college's students,
a multitude of problems have developed in the course of integrating students
into the work setting. Some supervisors are openly skeptical that these studentsmany
without high school diplomas and just off welfare -- are in fact potential professionals.
At Morrisania Hospital in the Bronx ten positions in social work had been negotiated.
But when the students showed up, they were found unacceptable for those positions,
although ultimately they were allowed to remain in a variety of other human
service capacities. Again, teachers in a public school to which two of the college's
students had been assigned would not allow them into the teachers' lounge. And
even where there is no hostility, students must overcome the common view that
the College for Human Services is a community college preparing paraprofessionals.
When students who have been treated like professionals by the college are placed
in paraprofessional or subprofessional positions in agencies, it is difficult,
if not impossible, for them to make the jump to professional status. The self-doubts
of the students themselves (sometimes grounded in realistic self-appraisals
of deficiencies in knowledge in specialized fields), the natural tendency to
seek good relationships with coworkers (difficult if you are seen by paraprofessionals
as a rate-buster on the way up), and the gatekeepers who protect existing positions
with the tariff of the five-year master's degree compound the problems. One
hears about these battles in visits to field sites: the efforts of students
to gain access to client records, to professional staff seminars, or to other
equivalents of the executive washroom. The outcomes of these struggles vary,
of course, but even where the host agency is hospitable, students may be relegated
to paraprofessional positions at the end of their training because of budget
restrictions or lack of formal degree requirements.
The quality of the student placement is the linchpin on which the whole program
turns. One model site is New York's Museum of Natural History, where a Spanish-speaking
student works as a teaching aide in the Mexican wing. Here the college had tapped
the resources of a doctoral-level museum staff that worked closely with the
intern, tutoring him, guiding his reading in Mayan culture, and teaching him
museum procedures. Similarly, at the Keener Clinic, a residential facility for
retarded children, students rotated through internships in physical therapy,
behavior modification techniques, and classroom training. They also participated
in a weekly seminar under the direction of a Columbia doctoral student in psychology.
In other placements, the college has not been as successful. At the Polish-Slavic
Center in Brooklyn, for example, efforts to turn students into switchboard operators
and envelope stuffers had to be halted.
After completing the first two competencies, by November many students, like
Jose Morales, are in the midst of the third: "Working with others in groups,
helping to establish clear goals." If he had somewhat lowered his high
original expectations, Morales was by no means discouraged with the program.
The only reservation he expressed was that perhaps the screening should have
been tougher -- fewer students would then be admitted with deficiencies in basic
skills or with family problems. Yet it seemed remarkable to him that there were
no drunks and nobody high on drugs in the college, given what he knew of other
colleges in the city. He winced when it was suggested that perhaps classes should
be tracked in skill areas"tracking" was virtually a forbidden word -- but
on reflection he agreed that this was needed. Of course, if the college had
been tougher, he might not have been accepted. His math was poor and he didn't
know how to write a paragraph. In fact it wasn't until the second day of his
skill class that he knew what a paragraph was. Now he could write one.
Morales said he was no professional yet, "not by a long shot," but
he was learning. When he was admitted, he thought a mistake had been made. He
didn't think he was ready or prepared to be a professional: "It was like
telling me I was going to be chief surgeon at Mt: Sinai. What the hell am I
going to do with a scalpel in my hand? I might cut myself." But after the
first competency (which he called "the orientation period"), he had
realized that it was possible "to take your own experiences in life, your
own true feeling, and if you want to make a contribution to the community you
can." He had also discovered values he didn't know he hadfor example,
the way his religion affected his outlook. He added, "I was -- how do you
say it? -- I was fatalistic. . . . I was willing to just let things be, but coming
here I learned you can really change things." His wife tells him he has
changed, that he doesn't explode at the children so much. He's more likely to
listen instead of brushing them away. But things weren't going that well on
the job. He was not sure he was cut out to be a teacher (his job placement was
as a teacher's aide in an alternative high school). Maybe he would do better
at counseling. But one could talk about the problems -- that was also a virtue
of the college.
What distinguishes classes at the college is their attention to student field
experiences; the common, cumulative curriculum tied to a series of student "constructive
actions"; the subordination of disciplinary divisions of knowledge to the
functional categories of the competency goals, and the lack of emphasis on reading
or analysis of texts. Nothing is labeled psychology or sociology or economics.
Many of the college's students, to be sure, would not know how to answer if
asked whether they were learning any sociology. They are doing just that, of
course, although not in a formal, structured sense. Adele Brody, a lawyer by
training, teaches what in many sociology departments would be called a course
on formal organizations. But the students do not read Seymour Martin Lipset,
Peter Blau, or any of the other standard sources in this field. Brody distributes
copies of agency budgets and teaches students how to read them to find out who
makes decisions, or how informal structures may block a decision that originates
in formal channels. Comparing the classes with those in sociology at Staten
Island Community College, one student explained that "we are dealing with
more realistic problems of people, of the agencies of the city." What did
she mean by that? She replied, "To be effective in the situation. To analyze
the client's problems -- to know what is realistic, what is not. How to deal with
a particular client, know yourself, know your emotions. Once you're in the agency,
how to feel it out. Know who to go to see to get something done."
The reading lists in the formal curriculum guides are impressive. Under Competency
V (counseling), for example, seventy-one books are listed, from Samuel Butler
to Thomas Szasz, and include Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Haim Ginott, Albert
Camus, Robert Coles, Arthur Janov, Carl Jung, Karl Marx, Abraham Maslow, Friedrich
Nietzsche, Wilhelm Reich, Carl Rogers, William Shakespeare, B. F. Skinner,
and Tennessee Williams. Even many doctoral students would not be at ease with
the range of literature listed! This is no modest list of 100 great books; it
is closer to 1,000 (if one adds all the competencies). But in actuality, traditional
reading of this sort has a low priority. The students' acquaintance with books
is painfully thin. Faculty members acknowledge this by assigning only short
articles or chapters, seldom books. Frequently key passages are read in class,
an open acknowledgment that not many have read the assignment. There are few
written assignments or "bookish" demands. The college stresses action.
Students have hectic schedules, and the faculty are overburdened themselves.
(In one class a faculty member announced a standard written assignment to be
completed over the weekend. A student outburst followed -- fists banged, there
were loud groans and shouts of "We can't do it. No way!" The instructor
backed down, but after class admitted that the students had not exactly demonstrated
"professional behavior." She resolved not to be intimidated a second
time. )One class was lackluster and withdrawn when the instructor attempted
to get students to discuss an article on teaching methods by Ronald Hyman, but
when he left the text and asked students what they would do in a tutoring center
for forty-two high school students on a day when ten volunteer college tutors
did not show up, the discussion covered all the strategies that one would find
among a group of student teachers at Hunter College or Berkeley.
An observer might recoil from the notion that students who have such cursory
acquaintance with the books that ask some of the most profound and disturbing
questions about the human condition can be certified as human service workers.
But should one compare these students with some ideal, or with what the average
nurse or primary school teacher knows of Rousseau or Shakespeare? Furthermore,
will reading Rousseau or Shakespeare improve their performance? Are not most
liberal arts courses taught to students in social work and education chosen
in an arbitrary way; do not they at best have only weak correlations with performance?
Does not the foregoing disjunction between discussing Hyman and discussing what
to do in a tutoring center simply confirm the Aristotelian distinction between
theoretical and practical wisdom? To know something is not necessarily to be
able to do it well. One cannot justify Rousseau or Shakespeare in relation to
short-term rewards, even if one believes that traditional sources must be included
in any professional curriculum on the grounds that human life is impoverished
What of more specialized or technical knowledge? A teacher of mathematics obviously
needs to know mathematics. A pharmacologist must understand certain branches
of chemistry and biology. The college's position is that most specialized knowledge
can be learned on the job. With no laboratories, the scientific knowledge imparted
crucially depends on the resources devoted to students on the job, and here
opportunities vary enormously.
Gladys King, a forty-five-year-old black student who interns as a counselor
in an alternative high school in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, faces
the problem common to many of the more able students at the college. In the
competition for jobs, will she be better off if she trains for a specific position?
She wants to be a counselor-teacher and has decided to take the necessary courses
in a community college in the evening. Did she choose that avenue of training
because she needed specific credentials or because she lacked knowledge to do
the work she wanted to do?
"I really do need more academic preparation to feel educated as a whole
person. Maybe it's a feeling of inadequacy on my part. I will probably end up
doing the same work I am doing now [by which she meant counseling], but I would
like to be a counselorteacher. I need science courses, not more counseling
courses. Also math courses. These are the courses I need to feel like a well-rounded
person. To me a well-rounded person means an adequate person. So I can function
better in my job. If I am asked to assist the math teacher or assist the science
teacher, I would like to know that I am prepared for that."
Another area of technical knowledge that the college does not teach well would
be called "tests and measurements" in a traditional catalogue. The
prejudice (which may be a fair prejudgment in some instances) that most of these
tests are bad or ill-used is imparted to the students, but they are taught little
that will allow them to be sophisticated critics or users of such tests. The
college's ideology also infects discussions of modern social science. For example,
in one class the findings of Coleman (1966) were lumped with other "social
theories that blame the victim for not learning." A film on the community
organizer Saul Alinsky presented him as a model to be emulated without question,
and much of the discussion about him sounded like a testimonial. While the fault
lies somewhat in ideological bias, it is also a reflection of the faculty's
limited knowledge. There are no sociologists at the college who are likely
to have read the full Coleman Report and secondary analyses of it, and
the faculty's disciplinary training in social sciences is not strong. But it
does shine in other areas: interviewing skills, group dynamics, a detailed
knowledge of how human resources agencies in New York work, and explanations
of new laws affecting client rights in many sectors. Thus a deputy director
of a mental health agency was surprised that students from the college who had
been on the job only a few months were familiar with court decisions affecting
the mentally ill that professionals on his staff had not read. Moreover, the
students saw in the decisions implications relevant to improving the treatment
of patients in his facility. The college also employs an excellent staff to
teach basic writing skills to students who enter with severe handicaps, in this
area. Whenever possible, writing is taught in the context of reports or memos
likely to be required on the job. During the first year students spend two hours
a week in writing clinics. Some make extraordinary progress, but others do not,
and poor writing ability is one of the most frequent criticisms one hears from
supervisors of the college's students.
The best teaching grows out of the "constructive action" projects
students must develop on the job. This kind of teaching -- the college's trademark -- is
focused on clarifying and generalizing what is learned in the field and what
needs to be learned in order to complete individual projects. Faculty sometimes
grow weary, however, of students who do little or no reading and who tend to
dismiss a theoretical point or criticize a position without really understanding
it. Such students must be convinced that although a theory may not have a specific,
immediate application to a client with a problem, it may be useful for understanding
the role of the supervisor or the organizational setting in which one is working.
Of course, much can be taught that does relate to the immediate, practical problem.
The case method that has been so effective in training teachers, social workers,
counselors, is utilized at the college for the study of real, rather than hypothetical,
In its attempt to push the pendulum of reform in the direction of more humane
service to clients, the college sometimes uses rhetoric reminiscent of quotations
from Chairman Mao, and its appeals to the students to act as change agents may
strike some ears like the slogans of agents provocateurs: "We cannot
doubt that the Human Service Society will become a reality. A massive change
in the use of human power is coming in this century, and we must prepare for
it now. It will be a change as great as that which took individual workers out
of their ground-floor shops and into the assembly lines. The industrial age
swept a whole society away in its path. The Human Service Society will mean
an equally sweeping change, but the motive force will be a concern for the quality
of individual human life" (College for Human Services, 1974, p. I : xi)
. But the day-to-day realities of the college, in contrast to the clarion calls
in proposals to funding agencies, reflect a sober awareness that change usually
comes a step at a time. A random sampling of student constructive action projects
reveals the following quitemodest proposals: to organize a school library; to
publicize the community programs in the Henry Street Settlement House neighborhood;
to open a "general store" in a high school selling pens, papers, and
books to raise money for school teams and give students a sense of identity;
to plan a program for the training of child care workers; to teach coworkers
a simple vocabulary to converse by hand signals with deaf children; to make
patients at Morrisania Hospital more aware of their rights.
The proposal to organize a school library competently described twelve tasks
the student would perform, such as ordering and cataloging books and establishing
a circulation flow. The student who wanted to plan a child care program needed
a good deal of help. His folder included a confused miscellany of pamphlets -- one
on child care from birth to age eighteen, another on alcoholism and drugs. The
student showed little awareness that he would need to draw upon the skills of
teachers, developmental psychologists, nutritionists, and others to plan such
a program. The Morrisania Hospital proposal was more typical; it involved discovering
and publicizing a variety of patient rights and benefits.
Just as the proposals are not as radical as the rhetoric, faculty do not insist
in practice upon rigid application of the rule that the client is always right.
Jose Morales, for instance, eventually became discouraged in his teaching at
an alternative high school. With the support of his coordinating teacher, he
resigned the job and transferred to another agency. Though he eventually did
go back to the school at the request of other students and faculty, the experience
left him seriously doubtful whether he should pursue the profession. On some
occasions the students have learned their lessons so well that they have come
close to losing their jobs. A Spanishspeaking student working in the emergency
ward of the Morrisania Hospital pressed for treatment for a patient who had
been turned away by the doctor in charge. Since the doctor remained adamant,
she appealed to higher authority. Subsequently, he sought her dismissal.
Clearly, the kind of assessment one receives often depends on who does the assessing.
The doctor we have just mentioned "failed" the student, but the patients
and other lay professionals in the hos pital took her side. The college has
tried to reflect this reality by establishing an assessment procedure in which
clients, peers, supervisors, and faculty all participate, but in which the
teacher makes the final decision. Assessment of constructive action proposals,
written work, and on-the-job performance occur throughout the year, but the
major evaluation comes with the year-end review of students. One year, the college's
counseling staff and the agency supervisors were asked to fill out assessment
forms responding to the dimensions of competence listed on the performance grid.
Were students, for example, able to identify goals and understand systems? Nearly
90 percent of the agency supervisors returned the forms -- a remarkably high proportion.
Faculty and counselors then discussed each student's case in an attempt to make
an overall assessment. The process was stimulating but also frustrating, because
different parties put different interpretations on the criteria, and judgments
about the same student diverged widely. Sometimes it was difficult to secure
and evaluate clients' assessments, and the sheer amount of paper generated was
overwhelming. The feeling began to grow that the college would have to rent
another floor just to store the assessment forms. The data included not only
the rating sheets but the student's entire portfolio, which one faculty member
compared to a 400-page novel. He thought he could read four or five portfolios
in a morning, but found he could hardly get through one in that time. (Significantly,
the forms not only pertain to students; the college faculty follows its own
preaching on assessment, with one of the most thoroughgoing faculty assessment
systems in use. Students complete elaborate faculty evaluation forms at the
end of every competence period, and faculty observe one another in their classes
and in their supervisory roles in the field.)
In the spring of 1976 attempts were made to "standardize" and simplify
the student assessment process; but now another basic problem arose. Should
students be assessed only on performance of a constructive action? What if the
proposal fails utterly but the student learns a great deal from the experience?
Does the faculty have absolute or relative notions of what constitutes a good
performance? Is it fair to a student to "fail" him or her at the year-end
review? Must such a student repeat the entire year? After listening to a faculty
committee discuss these matters, an observer was impressed with the committee's
willingness to discuss so candidly the difficulties of what they were attempting
and to raise questions that challenged some of the core ideas of the program.
In contrast to the elusive measures found on the assessment forms, faculty members
use unambiguous indicators of performance when they talk informally about students
they are supervising: Do they get to work regularly and on time? Do they participate
in class and complete assignments? Can they write? Do they dress, look, and
act like professionals? Are they serious and motivated? Perhaps it is a mistake
to cast the language of assessment in the same language as the teaching goals
of the program; a simpler set of terms might work better.
Sometimes real differences of opinion arise between faculty and agency supervisors.
A supervisor at a social work agency told me that she considered three of the
four students assigned to her to be unlikely candidates for professional status.
They had serious deficiencies in reading, writing, and analytical skills. When
the faculty member suggested that their greater empathy and understanding of
clients should compensate for their deficiencies, the supervisor replied quite
firmly that "just having lived is not enough." She insisted that
sophisticated diagnostic skills were required to analyze the difficulties of
problem families and write the reports demanded by the city agencies. When pressed
further, the supervisor replied that a student's failure to write the reports
well would mean additional burdens on the agency. As to diagnostic skills,
she felt that three of the college's students were below bachelor's degree expectations
and certainly not up to the level of a social worker with a master's degree
who would be expected to "know enough about therapy to try to evoke the
neurotic patterns that parents were afflicted with that led them to child abuse
At another agency, the Keener Clinic, supervisors felt that the college's students
might be at the bachelor's level, but not the master's, on two grounds: Their
basic writing and math skills were low, and they lacked specialized knowledge.
For example, the college's students would not know enough about psychological
testing to administer and interpret a battery of tests. Could such skills be
taught on the job? Yes, but more time would be required on the agency's part,
and students would need stronger basic skills.
Reinforcing this view of deficiencies at the college, the New York Department
of Education in 1975 rejected the college's application for authority to grant
the master's degree, principally on the ground that this degree would not be
built upon a bachelor's program. The college again responded in some of the
same ways as it had in 1968, seeking other avenues of support and trying to
demonstrate that its students would have the equivalent of a bachelor's degree.
But it also tried another tactic. Since the model could not be sold in New York,
why not export it? Audrey Cohen obtained a grant to disseminate the college's
program and began consulting at several colleges in California, Massachusetts,
and Pennsylvania. Lincoln University in Pennsylvania expressed considerable
interest. In 1976, its faculty, with the approval of the associate commissioner
of higher education in Pennsylvania, approved a program modeled after the College
for Human Services, although its exit requirements included a core academic
program as well as standardized tests (Lincoln University, 1976). At this writing
it appears that the acceptance of the model in Pennsylvania may improve the
likelihood of its approval in New York, where the college resubmitted its application
in early 1977, making distinctions in its program between the bachelor's and
master's degrees. A branch of the college established in Florida was granted
authority to award the master's degree in June 1977.
Reflections and Recommendations
Although the College for Human Services stands in this volume as an illustration
of a competence-based reform, it is clear that this is but one of the many strands
of reform the college has planned and encouraged. The other strands include
devising new roles for faculty, granting access to the most deprived groups
of students, and seeking to reform some professions by making assessment depend
on the judgment of the client as much as on that of fellow professionals.
There are a multitude of contexts in which one could analyze the significance
of these reforms attempted by the College for Human Services. One could challenge
its most basic premise of the need for a "human service" society on
the grounds that it makes more sense to strengthen the family through direct
grant programs than to enlarge the army of paid professionals who perform familylike
functions. But complex modern societies cannot do without bureaucracies, and
few persons would disagree with the aim of making them more responsive to human
needs. Although the college has rejected the term "paraprofessional"
to describe its graduates because the term has come to mean a restriction of
opportunities, there is a sense in which it has indeed hastened the development
of needed paraprofessional resources. "Para-" can mean "near"
or "alongside," as well as "subsidiary to." The college
fosters a leavening of the professions, some of which have severely and arbitrarily
restricted entry, and it seeks to supply, in the human services, the analogue
of the physician associate, or paradoctor, in medical practice. The difficulties
of establishing these roles and new performance measures within the framework
of the various professions that the college places under the mantle of "human
services" are, of course, enormous. But the achievements of the college,
begun by amateurs in rented quarters on short-cycle budgets, are remarkable.
The program took ten years to develop. Not a long time as historians would measure
it, but much longer than most contemporary American educational innovators
are willing to wait: they expect to have committee meetings this month and a
revolution next semester, even though most of the significant innovations in
American education have not been successfully developed and institutionalized
in less than a decade. Some of the college's faculty members have come and
gone, but a core has remained. Audrey Cohen, whose tenure really began in 1964,
was still president as of 1979; by contrast, the average term for college presidents
is now less than five years.
While questions remain as to the adequacy of the faculty's training in the disciplines,
few departmentally organized faculties could have sustained such a complex developmental
process. Con ventional disciplinary ambitions had to be abandoned by a faculty
willing to devote itself for a decade to the task of testing the emerging ideas
about a performance-based curriculum. It might have been possible to maintain
the esprit of the college's faculty members within a larger university, particularly
if they were organized as a subcollege
or semiautonomous unit to protect their very different reward systems and forms of organization, but it could only have been done with great difficulty.
What does account for the high morale? Salaries are low, fringe benefits minimal, the workweek long, the academic year a full calendar year. The College for Human Services began as a volunteer college built with the talents of gifted women who worked full time for part-time salaries. Faculty were attracted by the ideals of the college, its sense of social mission, and its visible human accomplishments as students moved off welfare and began to rise in responsible jobs. The college also exemplifies the wisdom of thinking big but starting small. Its fundamental aim-to establish a performance-based and job-related curriculum designed to deliver improved service to clients-involved complex networks of funding sources, dozens of city agencies, supplementary task forces, and research consultants. But because the scale was small -- never more than 200 students and about 20 faculty -- the program was manageable. The faculty could meet as a committee of the whole, with the maximum opportunity for communication. Each new wrinkle of the common curriculum was tested and appraised by all. Collegial learning was maximized. Visitors and consultants were plied with practical questions about the next step in the curriculum development process. The faculty had a keen sense of the college's history and seemed to enjoy talking over earlier stages in the developmental process.
Though idealistic reformers, faculty members were resilient in the face of not infrequent setbacks-"hardheaded do-gooders," if you will. When students slipped, faculty were not crushed. Nor did they allow themselves to be defeated by the always present gap between hopes and outcomes. The practical, job-related realities of the program helped to protect them from the rigidities of their own rhetoric.
Underlying all the talk about competent performance was a true religious sense of dedication. Most faculty members recoiled at sloppy, uncaring performance. Their desire to restore idealism to service was a blend of the puritanism and evangelism typically found in reformers. Written materials sound like epistles to shore up lonely missionaries. The college asks for a commitment to its "way,"
to the belief that in service and in giving one will be reborn. The college asks this commitment even of visiting researchers, whom it would like to use to spread the word about its good works. The college also sees such researchers as potential converts to the form of education and assessment that it considers necessary for the creation of a new professional, social, and intellectual world.
The college can point to major accomplishments in its first decade. It has established itself, surmounted internal crises and strikes, invented a new curriculum, survived harrowing cutbacks in funds for the human services in New York, extended political support networks locally and nationally, and drawn together a faculty dedicated to its vision of social change. Yet in the decade to come, the college will face critical problems. It must find a way to sustain the morale of students whose jobs do not match the college's hopes, to refine the knowledge base that underlies its performance-based program, and to rationalize its proposed new degree structure to skeptical external audiences.
Although at present nearly one third of the college's students have had some college and fewer have been on welfare, most still face a radical transition as they leave homebound roles to meet the demands of both college and a new job-a total workweek of fifty hours or more. It is doubtful that many could survive that transition without the structure that the college's core curriculum provides or the support on the job that faculty furnish as both advocates and supervisors. The practical, step-by-step nature of the CHS "performance grid" has holding power for many of these students. Yet the curriculum of constructive actions also creates role conflicts of major proportions. Students are asked to become change agents, not just to hold their own as they learn the ropes, but to transform the professions by creating one that as yet is undefined. To have been chosen by the college was a major boost in confidence for most students, and for many the curriculum is a transforming experience. But they encounter serious obstacles in trying to adjust the college's hopes to the realities of the marketplace. Few attain jobs at the professional level, and, without degrees, all enter the job market at a disadvantage. Theoretically, it should be possible for mature adults with some college experience to earn a master's degree in two years in an intensive apprentice-study program. In practice, however, there are some serious objections that the college will need to meet:
First, the college will have to offer different degrees for different levels
of competence, and distinctions will be difficult to make. Student placements,
of course, vary greatly according to the level of the student's work, and the
opportunities for learning on the job are also uneven -- a problem that has been
exacerbated by cutbacks in agency supervisory personnel.
Second, the college must assure the validity of its assessment system. The program
specifies that students must "function" as counselors or teachers,
but there is disagreement about what con stitutes an adequate level of functioning.
The problem is compounded by the conflating of personality and characterological
values in a number of competency statements. For example, as part of the counseling
competency, students are told to "demonstrate in counseling practice that
you are flexible, tough, willing to risk yourself, resilient in the face of
difficulty, optimistic and able to remain focused in confused or emotional situations."
To some degree, all programs preparing teachers or social workers share similar
difficulties in setting standards. No program can avoid subjective measures,
nor would it be desirable to do so. But at the College for Human Services the
subjective nature of the assessments is not offset by any nationally standardized
measures or achievement tests. In adapting the college's program, Lincoln University
in Pennsylvania required that students pass national undergraduate record exams
at the level achieved by its college seniors, take mathematics proficiency exams,
and complete a series of standard courses in psychology, sociology, statistics,
and other subjects, in addition to demonstrating the eight competencies listed
on the performance grid.
Third, the college must show that a generic degree in the human services will
allow its students to enter a declining market in the face of competition from
students with traditional preparation in such specific fields as psychology,
education, and social work. It remains to be seen how well College for Human
Services students can make their way outside the specific placements the college
has negotiated for them as part of the training process. However, if they were
armed with an accredited master's degree, it seems likely that some would be
able to create new positions, as the college and its graduates have done in
the past. Much will depend on the climate of client assessment that the college,
among others, is able to create.
Fourth, the college needs to distinguish variations in performance and then
tie them to degree levels. No one who has interviewed the college's students
over the course of their two-year pro gram would doubt that most who stay for
the full course make extraordinary progress. However, they begin from different
baselines and progress at different rates. A few do reach levels that seem
equivalent to those of students with master's degrees from elsewhere -- the degree
seldom indicates high proficiency in America. Some are prepared for more useful
and interesting work than they would otherwise qualify for, but do not go much
beyond the paraprofessional level. Others perhaps attain the equivalent of
the bachelor's degree. The college has lengthened its program from thirty weeks
a year to fifty and has raised its entrance levels so that more students now
enter with at least some college. It has also attempted to distinguish between
bachelor's and master's degrees -- it has dropped the associate degree -- and has
not been sentimental in its judgments about the competence of its master's candidates.
Of 113 students who enrolled in the first "master's program" class
in 1974, 76 were certified as having completed the first year, and 63 of these
were hired for a second year by the agency in which they had been placed. Of
that number, 58 were admitted to a second college year, and 51 won permanent
positions in agencies in 1976. But in its petition to Albany for degree-granting
powers, the faculty recommended only 12 of the original 113 students for the
master's degree and 5 for the bachelor's; 10 students were classified as needing
more time to complete all the "constructive actions" before a judgment
could be made. Whether any college could continue with such low degree-completion
rates is doubtful.
Finally, the invention of the college's performance grid was a genuine breakthrough
for the faculty, but the task of "filling in the boxes" or showing
the connections between theory and practice is an ambitious one. The college
has a small faculty, and although it now has a few Ph.D.s where formerly it
had none, the disciplinary training of the faculty has little depth. Like teachers
in the normal schools of an earlier day, or law schools before they began hiring
the college's faculty are practitioners, not scholars. Most do not regard the
disciplines as irrelevant, but they are skeptical that any particular knowledge
base underlies performance in the human services. Their refusal to equate a
list of courses with competence is admirable, and the college's performance
grid has become a filter through which the faculty can search the disciplines
for useful knowledge. That search is infused with an evangelical commitment
to social change, a commitment that sometimes leads, however, to a debunking
of what is not fully understood. The result is the development of a curriculum
that, though at points truncated and even anti-intellectual, is nonetheless
dynamic. The unresolved issue for the college is the question of how deeply
the faculty itself needs to be grounded in the disciplines in order to make
an intelligent search and to distinguish values from ideology.2 Not every faculty
member at the college needs a standard Ph.D. -- far from it. But the faculty could
benefit from a better mix of scholars and practitioners than it now has. Because
the College for Human Services has achieved some recognition for the genuine
advances it has made, it may be more willing and financially able to seek better
trained faculty; however, whether or not it expands its faculty, the tension
between knowledge and action will remain. Audrey Cohen would probably sympathize
with Arthur Morgan of Antioch, who said, toward the end of his distinguished
career, that he wished he had been more ruthless in eliminating faculty who
"came here to teach [their] subject" and did not share his vision
of the college as a "revolution" and "a way of life" (Clark,
1970, p. 40). Yet, as at Antioch, some faculty are both grounded in the disciplines
and committed to social change. They demonstrate in their own work the competence
of constructive action that the college expects not only of its graduates but
of all professionals.
1 Detailed information about events at the College for Human Services can be
found in its annual reports, and this chapter makes use of the reports issued
between 1968 and 1972. For statistical data on such matters as income and completion
rates of the college's students, see Hack, 1973.
2 Ideology does not here mean a conscious deception or lie, but what Karl Mannheim
called the "cant mentality" that fails to uncover the incongruities
in thought in "response to certain vital-emotional interests." See
Mannheim, 1955, p. 195. To be aware of the danger of ideology in this sense
is to recall Max Weber's assertion that "the primary task of a useful teacher
is to teach his students to recognize `inconvenient' facts-I mean facts that
are inconvenient for their party opinions." See Gerth and Mills, 1946,