How to Combine Adult Education and CTE Instruction

By Gayle Bennett

A new report highlights how community colleges can successfully move underprepared adult learners along career pathways.

Providing career pathways for adults with low basic skills is one of the more challenging and critical services community colleges provide.

The Accelerating Opportunity (AO) initiative, led by national nonprofit Jobs for the Future, sought to transform how states worked with underprepared adult learners so that they could earn postsecondary credentials that led to family-supporting careers. Working with 54 community colleges in four states (Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisiana) over three years, AO combined integrated career pathways at two-year colleges with team teaching, acceleration strategies, supportive services and policy changes.

Participating community colleges allowed adult-education students to enroll in for-credit career and technical education (CTE) courses while they simultaneously earned their high school credentials and improved their basic academic and/or language skills.

The recently released AO final implementation report highlights the initiative’s success:

  • 8,287 AO students earned 56,757 college credits and 11,283 credentials.
  • 35 percent of students engaged in work-based learning.
  • 30 percent of students found a job related to their career pathway.

We talked to Barbara Endel, AO senior program director at Jobs for the Future, to find out more about AO and how team teaching and navigators led to student success.

Was there a finding or a success metric that surprised you in the end?

In July 2012, the very month we were launching the initiative with over 50 community colleges, we lost Pell grant eligibility for this group of learners when the “ability to benefit” was eliminated by Congress. The states and the colleges had to put their innovation and ingenuity to work to fund these students’ education.

So the fact that we got 78 percent of the credentials that we had as our goal with our funding consortium was really amazing, given there was little funding for students at the time we launched.

Why was team teaching, in which CTE instructors were paired with adult-education instructors in the same classroom, so effective?

With team teaching, you are able to deploy the right instructional model, where students can understand and get the help they need with math or English or understanding the concept in real time. You’ve got the content instructor working along with an adult-education instructor, who understands adult-learning theory and can read the room and voice some of those student questions.

Sometimes CTE faculty do have resistance [to team teaching], but when they realize that they don’t have to take the extra time to go through some of the basic math concepts and stall any momentum around the content, they see the value pretty quickly. In interviews time and time again, CTE faculty say they never want to go back, because almost all of their students are more successful with team teaching than when they were teaching alone.

Were best practices developed for overcoming institutional resistance to team teaching?

It’s kind of like a marriage: What’s the best match between the CTE instructor and the adult-education instructor? At some colleges, criteria were developed and interviews and meetings were held to make sure the instructors were philosophically aligned. The colleges that did that had much better success.

What was the role of navigators in AO student success?

A lot of the colleges used grant funds to hire a navigator. Research within community colleges shows that having one point of contact in which students feel like they are supported emotionally makes a huge difference in persistence. Navigators would help the students with both academic and nonacademic issues and make sure they were understanding the complexity of the college landscape.

Are any of the AO colleges working on funding streams to keep the navigators?

Yes. Kentucky has been the most active, but others really see the value as well and have tried to institutionalize those positions.

What do you hope state policymakers and community college leaders take away from this initiative?

For states and colleges that are struggling to address how to help their least prepared learners, this is a model that can help and can contribute to success. It’s worth the investment, even though it may be a high investment, because it’s high quality, high return and high persistence.

Gayle Bennett

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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