Survey identifies Island demand for continuing education

The UMass medical school study found barriers remain to expanding educational opportunities on Martha’s Vineyard.

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ACE MV chairman Judy Miller moderated the presentation of the survey results. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Island residents want more post–high school educational opportunities, including classes for personal enrichment and professional certification, according to a yearlong survey conducted by Adult Continuing Education of Martha’s Vineyard (ACE MV) in conjunction with a research team from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

On Tuesday, representatives of ACE MV and UMass Medical School presented the findings of the study, titled “Needs Assessment for Adult Education on MV,”  to the public at the West Tisbury library.

The presentation, moderated by Judy Miller, chairman of ACE MV, included a report by Dr. Heather-Lyn Haley, project manager for community health at the UMass Medical School, a group that has conducted similar Island studies on health and education issues in the past.

The two-stage study began last fall as part of a comprehensive assessment of the adult and continuing education needs of the Island community to provide data that would support strategic planning, according to an executive summary distributed Tuesday.

In the first stage, the survey conducted interviews with community leaders “to gain a general understanding of the respondents’ perceptions of the strengths, opportunities, and challenges or weaknesses that ACE MV must address in planning for the future.”

The work group also conducted small-group interviews with 47 respondents representing 45 organizations that play a major part in the community. In the second stage, “559 responses were collected from a larger sample of current and potential ACE MV students in spring 2015 through a combination of paper and online surveys.”

What the survey found

The survey found that people were most interested in offerings for personal enrichment, followed by professional development, college- or graduate-credit courses, and finally technical, job, and basic skills.

The most commonly identified unmet need was the need for technical skills, including computer skills. Specialized skills such as boat handling and construction-trade skills, farming and agriculture, marketing and bookkeeping, were examples in this category. Municipal services such as building assessment and wastewater management, and more complex skills such as arts management and grant writing were identified, suggesting the broad range of needs in this category. A need for basic skills was identified by many interviewees. Interpersonal skills such as written and spoken communication, problem solving, and basic numeracy were mentioned as examples.

Respondents reported the need for college credit courses, both at undergraduate and graduate level. College course requirements for teachers, nurses, and social workers were mentioned. Respondents asked for credit-bearing courses in the “general education” category to fulfill requirements for completion of degrees, particularly in the sciences and with laboratory components.

The need for professional development in the form of ongoing continuing education required by licensed workers such as nurses and teachers was also noted. Some respondents mentioned the need for updating skills prompted by increased regulations and the growing need for certifications in fields such as landscaping, building trades, and food service.

Small-group respondents attuned to the needs of the workplace did not mention personal enrichment as often as might have been anticipated, given that the most popular offerings at ACE MV have been courses of this type, according to the summary. Survey responses in Phase 2 affirmed the popularity of such courses, especially among the retired.

Barriers remain

Among the barriers the study identified was finding time to pursue education, maintaining class sizes large enough to attract resources, inability to access education online, a seasonal economy, an increasing regulatory environment, an aging workforce, and Island cultural and geographic faultlines.

On the other hand, respondents in the one- to two-hour leader discussion groups said a strong Island economy and community support, the pool of available talent on-Island, a willingness to collaborate, and a strong ethic of civic engagement were strengths on which education after high school could be built.

Discussion during the one-hour presentation and conversations with the study architects following the presentation indicated that delivering those services must overcome barriers related to providing educational services to an Island with a relatively small population and further divided by an up-Island/down-Island perspective.

ACE MV leader Judy Miller and executive director Sam Hart said that ACE MV is prepared to provide, facilitate, and broker delivery of educational services. After the meeting, Mr. Hart noted that based on the study’s needs assessment, ACE MV has arranged a two-part Home Energy Rating System (HERS) program for contractors, which will begin online on November, with a four-part lecture series on-Island in early December.

He said the HERS program is one of 11 such educational and certification programs ACE MV has scheduled for Island construction professionals.

Mr. Hart said he sees an opportunity for high school students to begin accumulating college credits while in high school, to make the transition to college more fluid. He also noted that while much emphasis is placed on a four-year college track, college is a choice many students do not make, and outlined the need for on-Island formal training and apprenticeships in skills and trades. “We need to create pathways,” he said.

In her remarks to the two dozen in the audience, including representatives of nonprofits such as the Donors Collaborative, which has played a role in several UMass Island studies, Ms. Miller said, “If you read between the lines here today, you can see one nonprofit, reliant on other nonprofits, with a goal to improve the economic life of our Island.”

The research study was sponsored by Cape Cod 5 Cents Bank, the Farm Neck Foundation, and the Permanent Endowment Fund of Martha’s Vineyard.

For more information on ACE MV, go to acemv.org.