Accelerating Opportunity Program Reports Success

By Sonya Stinson

Lewis and Clark Community College’s fast-track program for adults is taking off as the college continues to learn from its experience.

A Jobs for the Future (JFF) initiative to put low-skilled adult learners on the fast track to obtaining college credentials and career training is making great strides, according to a report, released in late March, that assesses the project’s second year. Five states — Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina — are taking part in the program, which is modeled after the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program in Washington state.

In its second year, the JFF initiative to reform adult basic education, called Accelerating Opportunity (AO), served 2,874 students across the five states, up from 2,370 in the first year. Each participating college chose a specific set of career pathways in which to incorporate the AO approach. In the first two years, the total number of career pathways offered rose from 89 to 120.

Accelerating Opportunity offerings in Illinois

The AO program at Lewis and Clark Community College, in Illinois, offers four career pathways: automotive technology, welding technology, emergency medical technician (EMT) and a truck driver training pathway that will begin in summer 2015. Across the three original pathways that launched in September 2012, about 90 students have participated.

With the program now in its third year, participating students have earned a total of nearly 200 credentials. More than half of those students have gotten jobs, and about a third have transitioned from the adult education division, where they earn GEDs into a college-level curriculum.

“Before we started some of these innovative programs, we only had about 5 percent of our students in adult education continue on to college,” says Val Harris, associate dean of adult education at Lewis and Clark.

A model that works

Two of the AO cornerstones are a team-teaching approach and the integration of basic-skills instruction with career and technical education.

“Team teaching was the biggest change for us, although there have been so many, it’s hard to narrow it down,” Harris says.

Basic-skills instructors sit in on career and technical education classes to become familiar with their content and collaborate with the teachers of those courses in order to set targeted learning outcomes. The basic-skills instructors also conduct a separate support class for the cohorts in each of the career pathways.

“The goal of the support course is to ensure that the students have an opportunity to get questions answered that maybe they didn’t even know they had or didn’t have time to ask in the college course,” says Harris, who adds that students also receive help with things like preparing for tests and mastering technical vocabulary.

Learning from experience

Automotive technology is the largest AO section at Lewis and Clark, with about 45 students involved since the start, followed by welding, which Harris estimates has had 30 to 35 participants. About 16 students have pursued the EMT certification. The college introduced a career pathway in new media technology in fall 2014 but decided to discontinue it after only one student signed up.

“We’ve tried to learn from that,” Harris says. “Maybe we need to do some customized AO, which we’re experimenting with. We’re doing a lot of experimenting.”

As a midsize institution, with an enrollment of about 20,000 on three campuses, Harris says it’s been a challenge for the college to get a critical mass of students for each career and technical education area it wants to target.

“We’re trying different ways to keep the model going because we feel very good about its success,” she says.

In fact, administrators would like to expand the adoption of the AO model in the EMT curriculum by using it in at least one course that all students in that certificate program would take. According to Harris, involving additional students would make it more cost efficient to keep the program coordinator on board, as well as relieve the adult education department of sole responsibility for getting funding.

The AO initiative has transformed the culture of Harris’ department from a GED program to a college transition program.

“I can’t say that’s an easy transition to make,” Harris says.” In fact, it’s very challenging to get everyone to buy into that idea — but it’s happening. The proof is in the students.”

JFF will be hosting Bridging the Gap: Postsecondary Pathways for Underprepared Learners April 8–9, in New Orleans.

Sonya Stinson

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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