Research: Assessment of Character in the Trades (ACT): Promoting Character Development and Productive and Engaged Citizenship among Young American Men

The Assessment of Character in the Trades (ACT) is a longitudinal mixed methods study designed to address the gap in knowledge about technical, vocational, and community college education and the positive development of youth in the United States who choose this educational path. Substantial research in developmental science has focused on young people attending four year colleges and universities, with considerably less attention given to the personal development and educational experiences of trade school and community college students. The ACT team hoped that by evaluating the implementation and impact of trade school or community college education, with this phase of research focusing on young men, more information will be available about how to enhance the educational attainments of American youth, in addition to supporting life achievements and character, moral, and civic development. We conducted the three-year study by examining and evaluating the Williamson College (WC) model for developing its students into alumni who embody Williamson College’s core values of faith, integrity, diligence, excellence, and service. To understand the impact that WC has on the character development of young men, the study collected data pertaining to attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs of Williamson College students, and compared them to students from nearby schools in the greater Philadelphia region. The ACT Study recently finished data collection and is undertaking final analysis of the data.

The quantitative data, gathered through an online questionnaire, included questions about the variables in the WC educational model (such as honesty, frugality, and entrepreneurship) as well as additional variables (such as civic attitudes and vocational development). Research in youth development suggests that these variables play an important role in the lives of young people.

The primary source of qualitative data came from interviews with WC and comparison school (CS) students at the beginning of their education; these students were also interviewed in their second and third years of the study. We also collected qualitative data from (a) alumni (who graduated more than five years before the beginning of the study) to obtain a longer term perspective of the WC experience and its impact on young men and (b) faculty and administrators regarding their perceptions of the school mission, climate, and student body. This information was used to obtain a deeper understanding of the character based education model at WC and its impact on students.

We are preparing the data set for sharing with the developmental science community, and further information with be forthcoming.