NCEDC TIPS: Technical Assistance

Obtaining College Credit for Direct Service Workers Training

May 20, 2003

To: Technical Assistance Committee, National Community Education Directors Council

From: Joseph H. Evans, Ph.D.

In the never-ending battle to maintain and retain direct service workers, provision of educational incentives such as college credits can be an attractive benefit. We have been actively awarding academic credits for over 12 years through a cooperative training agreement between our UCEDD, our local Community College, and one of our major service providing agencies. We have "molded" training for direct service workers into a series of approved "courses" which not only professionalize training but also are available as transferable "credits" towards college degree completion. Staff have reported this to be a popular incentive for remaining with their agencies. The provision of academic credit also adds the requirement that staff actually attend classes and "pass" knowledge and/or skills-based examinations.

The remainder of this "Tips for Trainers" article is designed to relay pertinent suggestions and recommendations for incorporation of college credits into UCEDD training programs. Based upon our extensive history of successes, failures, and "trial and error" learning, suggestions are being made that may be pertinent to many UCEDD training programs, with some moderate degrees of adaptation to the individual sites.

  1. Examine Training Content for Applicability to a College Course Requirement. Frequently, class content such as CPR, First Aid, andbasic health monitoring/wellness information is applicable for credit and is often found in college courses in the areas of Health Education, Recreation, Physical Education, etc. Keep in mind that the "average" college course requires approximately 45 hours of "classroom contact" with an instructor. Practicum coursework can be substituted for contacthours but a general "rule of thumb" is that at least two hours of practica must be substituted for one hour of classroom instruction. Course content that is only specific to an agency's practices (such as reviewing policies related to financial expenditures) is generally not acceptable content for college credit. We have arranged training into a four-class sequence, the completion of which three classes produces a "Certificate" for the student/trainee. Courses range in length from 25 (2 semester credits) to 45 hours (3 semester credits). Coursework titles include: a) Introduction to Services and Supports for Persons with Disabilities, b) Achieving Goals with Persons with Disabilities, c) Legal and Ethical Issues in Developmental Disabilities, and d) Positive Behavior Supports and Management.
  2. Obtain Coursework Approval from Your Local University, College, or Community College. Most institutions of higher education have "community outreach" as part of their educational mission. In our experience, community colleges, because of their greater emphasis upon "vocational training" are usually more flexible and adaptive to offering college credits for direct care service workers. Additionally, since the majority of direct service workers are generally high school or GED graduates who have not yet taken college coursework or who are still in their first two years of college attendance, coursework at the community college level is most appropriate for this group of personnel. We have found that our most effective partners within Community Colleges have been their Community Outreach programs that deal with creation of college credits for industrial applications. These administrators are usually most knowledgeable and experienced in methods to "shape" course content into acceptable academic products.
  3. Find Instructors of Record Who Meet Criteria for Faculty Status. In Community Colleges, the generally accepted "standard" for teaching staff is a Master's degree in an area related to course content. While various speakers or lecturers can be invited to participate in lectures, presentations, demonstrations, and/or supervision, the overall course coordinator must be acceptable to the Community College and should also be appointed to the faculty of the academic unit (in our case, the Human Services Department) in which courses are offered. It is imperative that an "instructor of record" be named who is acceptable to the Community College and who takes responsibility for instructing and/or arranging presentations, maintaining and updating course syllabi, and evaluating students for course content and knowledge.
  4. Arrange the "Payment Cycle" for Tuition, Instructor, and Classroom Space . In the "triad" of Provider Agency, UCEDD, and the Community College, each member brings strengths to the overall partnership.
Agencies/programs have the staff necessary to create programs of services and supports for persons with disabilities. UCEDDs have faculty with the knowledge and teaching expertise to provide quality training services. Community colleges have the mechanism and mission to meet community and individual needs for vocational training and college credit.
In our years of experience with training direct care professionals we have also found differences in the motivators that impact members of our "triad." Provider agencies are motivated to get staff trained to provide improved services. UCEDDs are motivated to impact and alter the system of care for persons with disabilities. Community colleges are motivated to extend educational services into the community.
Partnerships between agencies can meet the motivational (and financial) needs of each member of the triad.
We have arranged a unique "system" of payment that meets the motivational needs of each of the partnership members. Agencies typically have a "training budget" (albeit usually small) that can be used to support training efforts. Our local provider agency (the Eastern Nebraska Community Office on Retardation [ENCOR]), used their training funds to contract with the Community College to provide training services. In turn, the College contracted with the UCEDD for both instructors and training space. Agency payments to the Community College were then exchanged with the UCEDD for instructors and classrooms. In this arrangement, Community Colleges increase their enrollment and, as they are generally funded on an FTE basis, can generate more State support for their efforts. As our partnership has developed, we have even eliminated the "middle man" process of having agencies pay Community Colleges which then, in turn, make payments to the UCEDD. Instead, agency payments come directly to the UCEDD which, under the auspices of the Community College, initiates student records, reports grades, and maintains records of attendance. Using this strategy, the Community College has been able to increase its student FTE ratio by approximately an additional 50 students annually (equivalent to 1200 semester hours of credit per year).
  1. Maintain Quality Assurance. Conducting periodic reviews of course content, monitoring student satisfaction with instruction, and meetingthe overall needs of the service delivery agency are key to maintaininga quality training program. We have found it necessary to periodicallyand systematically examine course content that has led to the introduction of course content reflecting "changes" in the field ofdevelopmental disabilities. Information and procedures on inclusion, community connections, personal choice, supported employment, positive behavioral supports, and person-centered planning, to name but a few, are additional sessions that have been added to the basic training package over time.
In addition to upgrading training materials, assessments of instructorsare necessary to maintain quality educational programming. Over the past 12 years, we have offered over 300 courses to nearly 10,000 participants, of whom approximately 75% have opted to obtain college credit. Surveys from the Community College and monitoring from UCEDD and agency staff have maintained the overall quality of standard for training in developmental disabilities. For these courses, we have only utilized six separate "instructors" over the past 12 years. Periodic assessments and feedback have maintained training quality at a high level.
Finally, periodic assessments of agency needs and/or concerns have been collected which have, in turn, impacted the development of "specialized" courses and/or alterations in current course content. We have experienced negative responses to our training faculty for only one individual (who opted to leave the training field and pursue a different career choice).


Munroe-Meyer Institute, University of Nebraska Medical Center
985450 Nebraska Medical Center, 4410 Dewey
Phone 402-559-5174, Fax 402-559-6864