Job Corps and the public-private debate

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Virginia Tech

One of the most controversial questions in public administration today is the question of effectiveness and how well it is achieved by public and private organizations. Some studies hold private enterprise up as more effective; however, some others have argued the case in favor of the public sector. In examining the question, theorists have largely neglected the issue of quality of service. This study generates an effectiveness rating that takes into account quality as a major factor in addition to costs.

This research uses the largest manpower training program in America, Job Corps, as a model for study. Job Corps encompasses both the public and private sectors, with a majority of the 107 Job Corps centers managed by private enterprise under contract to the United States Government.

Two public and two private Job Corps centers were compared. Data were compiled from the following sources: 1) direct personal observation; 2) in-depth interviews; 3) Job Corps financial reports; and 4) student survey results. An effectiveness quotient for each center was developed from the data. Results show that each of the four centers has its own characteristic strengths and weaknesses. The public centers offered somewhat better quality of services as well as lower costs, and therefore noticeably better effectiveness than did the private centers. The public centers also surpassed the private centers in successfully meeting the job satisfaction needs of their employees. Unexpected findings included the fact that the centers that kept their costs the lowest also had the highest quality, and thus were scored as more effective. We conclude that the differentiating factor between public and private Job Corps centers is not their ownership, public or private, but rather how well-managed a center or class of centers is.

In order to improve Job Corps operations, this study recommends a change in the assessment procedures for Job Corps, emphasizing quality of services and effectiveness of services rather than statistics on cost and average length of stay. It also suggests that continuing attention be paid to program management systems, including elements as diverse as communication among staff and control of students.