Accelerating Opportunity Model Effectively and Efficiently Helps Low-Skilled Students Earn College Credentials

Published jun. 28, 2017

New Research Also Reveals Groups of Students Saw Employment and Earnings Gains

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Binoli Dua

BOSTON, MA (June 28, 2017)—The Urban Institute, with its partner George Washington University, today released its final impact report on Accelerating Opportunity. Accelerating Opportunity, a Jobs for the Future initiative, is designed to transform how states work with their adult education programs and community colleges to provide training for underprepared adult learners.

New evidence from the final impact report finds that the initiative successfully gave underprepared students the chance to start on a career pathway at community colleges in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Students who could not otherwise access college were able to earn college credits and credentials. Some groups of students, among the 4,300 participants, experienced employment and earnings gains.

Earlier research on Accelerating Opportunity (AO) found that the unique model of making career and technical education programs accessible to low-skilled students, introducing team teaching, and linking integrated career pathways to the needs of employers and industry was popular among colleges and students. AO was developed as an evolution and expansion of the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) model from Washington State. The initiative had strong support from state leadership and influenced policy changes to benefit adult learners. Today’s release highlights the impact the AO model has on participating students.

“Accelerating Opportunity can now serve as a powerful catalyst for continued positive change in adult education and community college initiatives throughout the country,” said Maria Flynn, President and CEO of Jobs for the Future. “The AO model is a promising approach to helping students with low basic skills, and we now have key findings and data from four very different states on how to best utilize resources to help these students earn credentials and advance into the labor market, achievements that were not well within reach before AO.”

The majority of states and colleges scaled up the initiative over time for an ultimate total of 54 participating colleges in the four states. In addition, colleges grew and evolved the number and types of pathways offered, expanding to 154 recorded pathways.

Accelerating Opportunity students came from all walks of life, and many were single parents balancing both work and school, or adults in their late 20s and 30s who had never before had the opportunity to pursue a postsecondary education. AO students were somewhat more likely to be female, older than traditional college students, and typically reflect the racial/ethnic demographics of each participating state.

“The success of AO and the reason the initiative was able to scale over time is a direct result of each state and its colleges recognizing the need to better serve adult learners. In Illinois and across several very different states, adult education partnered with colleges to put in place these effective models, and realized the potential of students; many without a high school credential succeed in not just taking college courses but in earning credentials and getting good jobs,” said Dr. Karen Hunter Anderson, Executive Director of Illinois Community College Board.

For the final impact report, researchers at the Urban Institute analyzed data for a subset of 4,300 students in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana enrolled in AO integrated career pathways to understand the educational and employment impacts of the initiative. The analysis shows strong and positive impacts on education outcomes and promising employment outcomes for some student subgroups.

Findings include:

The AO model is a promising approach to help students with low basic skills succeed in college: AO students earned more than 79,000 college credits and nearly 6,800 college credentials. AO increased the likelihood of students earning a college credential over the matched comparison groups by between 11 and 20 percentage points. This represented an increase of 19 percent in Kansas, 35 percent in Illinois, 133 percent in Kentucky, and 622 percent in Louisiana. In most cases, AO students earned more credentials while taking fewer credits, possibly indicating more efficient course-taking and accelerated learning.

Mid- and long-term employment outcomes improved for some adults with low basic skills, but results are mixed: AO students’ employment rates increased in Kansas, Kentucky, and Illinois.

  • In Kansas, students recruited from career and technical education programs experienced large, positive, and persistent impacts on employment and earnings. The employment gains reached 33 percent over the similar students in the comparison group at two years after enrollment. AO participants saw increased quarterly earnings of $1,188 over the comparison group. 
  • In Kentucky, students recruited from adult education earned more than comparison group students, reaching a gain of 43 percent over the average comparison group earnings, an increase averaging $855 per quarter. 
  • Other students saw mixed impacts on earnings during the study period.

“The findings of our final impact report illustrate that AO accomplished its mission of addressing a major challenge faced in the United States, which is too many adults have low basic skills and few prospects to earn a living wage,” said Barbara Endel, Senior Director of Jobs for the Future and AO co-lead. “As a result of AO, thousands of students had the chance to co-enroll in a career pathway at a community college and gain access to the skills and credentials they need to truly persist and succeed in their academic and employment goals.”

To learn more about the findings of the Accelerating Opportunity final impact report, please visit:


About Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future (JFF) is a national nonprofit that builds educational and economic opportunity for underserved populations in the United States. JFF develops innovative career and educational programs and public policies that increase college readiness and career success, and build a more highly skilled workforce. With over 30 years of experience, JFF is the national leader in bridging education and work to increase economic mobility and strengthen our economy.

About Accelerating Opportunity

Accelerating Opportunity seeks to change the way Adult Basic Education and Career Technical Education is delivered by putting students on track to earn a postsecondary credential and providing them with the support needed to succeed. The initiative targets workers who are underprepared for today’s demanding job market and builds on the legacy of JFF’s innovative adult education initiative, Breaking Through, as well as Washington State’s I-BEST program. Accelerating Opportunity is supported by three partnering organizations: Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, National College Transition Network, and the National Council for Workforce Education, as well as a coalition of funders: the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the University of Phoenix Foundation.