Editor’s Note: In today’s post, we explore how Jobs for the Future’s Accelerating Opportunity career pathways have changed the course for a student professionally and academically.
“I really didn’t care in high school,” says Erin Chavez, a 25-year-old single mother in Ashland, Kentucky. In fact, she says she would often doze off after lunch. “And after high school, I didn’t really do much of anything,” she adds. “I was still really young.”
But that all changed when Chavez enrolled in the Accelerating Opportunity program at Ashland Community & Technical College. Now, Chavez is on track to earn an associate degree and hopes to ultimately become a nurse. “I really don’t do anything now but take care of my little girl, go to school and do it all over again,” she says.
“I want to make sure that my daughter never has to worry about having what she needs financially. We struggled when I was younger; if I can prevent that from happening, then that’s what I want to do,” Chavez says.
During the summer of 2014, Chavez took classes that were taught by instructors from both the adult-education department and the nursing department. In addition, the Accelerating Opportunity coordinator offered Chavez continual support and encouragement as a “success coach” to help her troubleshoot and work through potential challenges.
For Chavez, the best part of the program: its hands-on component. She took medical terminology and a nursing prerequisite, but it was the clinical work at the nearby hospital that fully engaged Chavez. Dressed in her scrubs, working alongside the nursing staff, Chavez knew she’d found something she could do well. She learned about patient nutrition and disease prevention and how to operate a lift machine to move patients.
“Seeing all the sick people and their families — I’ve never been in a setting like that before, and I just liked taking care of people,” she says. “And if I had just taken classes and not done hands-on work, I would have gotten really bored. It was my first class as a college student, and if I hadn’t had that, I wouldn’t have stuck with it.”
A new adult-education model for success
Accelerating Opportunity is an initiative of Jobs for the Future (JFF), the Boston-based nonprofit. The goal is to provide adults who have low academic skills the opportunity to get a college degree or certification and develop workforce-ready capabilities.
The essential component of the program, says Rachel Pleasants McDonnell, senior program manager at JFF, is the partnership between the adult-education instructor and the community college professor.
“The two instructors are working together, co-delivering instruction,” McDonnell says. “We specify that we want it to be a credit-bearing program, to include shorter-term certificates and stackable credentials, so the students can go to work or be on a pathway to earn an associate degree.”
“Students are improving basic skills while doing job training,” McDonnell adds. It’s an accelerated model that works where traditional programs, that might take student several years to complete, often fail. “Most adults who start adult education don’t make it to college.”
Through Accelerating Opportunity, “underprepared adult learners can be successful in college classrooms, earn credentials and go into the workforce,” McDonnell says.
There are currently seven states and 78 colleges participating in Accelerating Opportunities, with many career pathways, including automotive, health care, welding and technology. JFF’s self-reported data estimates 10,000 or 11,000 students have enrolled in the program, McDonnell says.
For Erin Chavez, it took just two and a half months in Accelerating Opportunity before she was able to register at Ashland as a part-time community college student and get hired in the advising center. She enrolled in Psychology 101 and took some math courses.
As if that weren’t enough, Chavez became a self-described spokeswoman for the Accelerating Opportunity program, even creating a PowerPoint presentation to give to other adult-education students.
“I love the program and have gotten other people into the program,” she says. “I’ve become more self-aware, and I’m willing to do things I never thought I’d do,” Chavez adds. At orientation she hands out brochures and talks to people about Accelerating Opportunity.
If she hadn’t enrolled in Accelerating Opportunity, says Chavez, her future would look very different. “It would have been pretty scary if I didn’t start the program,” she says. “It made me stay in school and stick with what I wanted to do, because I actually got to do stuff and not just sit in a class, read books and listen.”
As for her future, Chavez envisions a bright one. “I want to be a nurse or an assistant or hopefully go back to school and be something bigger — maybe a doctor. That would be really cool.”