How to Ensure Success for Underprepared Learners in College

Published jul. 12, 2016

Critical Findings of the Accelerating Opportunity Initiative

JFF’s Accelerating Opportunity

(AO) initiative was launched over four years ago, with the goal of helping the nation’s large numbers of adults with low basic skills earn higher-wage jobs faster by combining the Adult Basic Education (ABE) and career and technical training they need into one integrated program.

The numbers speak for themselves: in the first three years of the initiative, 8,287 students enrolled in AO pathways across 54 colleges in four of our participating states: Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. These colleges implemented and sustained 154 integrated career pathways, with students earning 56,757 college credits and 11,283 credentials. In addition, 35 percent of AO students engaged in work-based learning, and 30 percent found a job related to the occupational area of their career pathway.

The Urban Institute, with its partner the Aspen Institute, recently completed and disseminated the AO final implementation report, the first in a series of final reports on the initiative. The report documents how four of the participating states, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana successfully implemented the AO initiative in its first three years. Each state had its own unique successes, trials and challenges during the review period, but their experiences illustrate three critical components of the AO model that have helped colleges get adults with low basic skills into the classroom, credentialed, and employed in high-demand occupations within their regional labor market.

1. Underprepared learners need personalized support to thrive in the college environment: AO students receive additional support from dedicated staff members, often referred to as navigators or success coaches, who connect them to needed services inside or outside the college, including healthcare, daycare services, tutoring opportunities, and individualized case management.

2. Team teaching is integral to classroom success for both faculty and students: Although career and technical education (CTE) faculty at the AO colleges initially expressed concerns about the specific role of an adult education instructor in the CTE classroom, those who engaged in team teaching became more positive about the approach over time. Students were enthusiastic and receptive about the model, and indicated a desire for more exposure to team-taught classes.

3. Changing college cultures and attitudes toward adult education students helps foster student engagement: Through the development of internal partnerships between the colleges’ ABE and CTE departments, new champions for adult education and low-skilled students emerged. Those relationships motivated change in internal college policies to help students, such as waiving course prerequisites for AO students

Additional Accelerating Opportunity implementation reports will be issued in fall 2016.

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