New Report Reveals Lessons Learned for Ensuring Success for Underprepared Learners in College

Published jun. 06, 2016

Team teaching, student supports, and state-level partnership development are critical components according to findings about Accelerating Opportunity initiative.

BOSTON, MA (June 6, 2016)—The Urban Institute, with its partner the Aspen Institute, released its final implementation report on Accelerating Opportunity, the first in a series of final reports on the initiative. Accelerating Opportunity, a Jobs for the Future (JFF) initiative, is designed to transform how states work with their adult education programs and community colleges to provide training for underprepared adult learners.

The Accelerating Opportunity (AO) final implementation report documents how four of the participating states (Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana) successfully implemented the program in its first three years. The report highlights cross-cutting lessons on supporting student success, sustainability, and partnership development, and provides recommendations to assist other states in creating similar integrated career pathways for adults with low basic skills.

During the first three years of implementation, the 8,287 students in AO pathway programs earned 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 findings of this report show that the combination of AO’s student supports, the integration of team teaching, and state- and local-level public and private partnerships have helped to increase overall student engagement and student success,” said Barbara Endel, AO Senior Program Director for Jobs for the Future. “These successes have been a strong catalyst for changed national perceptions on career pathways, especially in the context of WIOA. There is an overall positive cultural shift toward integrating adult education programs with postsecondary education throughout the country.”

 “Almost every college and state is sustaining all or parts of the model, and we are pleased that those participating in AO see the value of continuing it,” stated Maria Flynn, Senior Vice President for Jobs for the Future. “Many AO students have noted that had it not been for the AO initiative, college courses and credentials might have not been a viable option for them.”

Key findings from the final implementation report, based on site visits to each of the four states, a survey of the participating colleges, and other program documentation, include:

The four states successfully scaled Accelerating Opportunity: The four states utilized a multitude of internal and external resources to expand the AO model to all or a large proportion of colleges within their respective states. Over the first three years of the initiative, 8,287 students enrolled in AO across 54 colleges. These colleges implemented and sustained 154 integrated career pathways. Legislative bodies in two states— Kansas and Louisiana—appropriated funds to support AO, partially based on early indicators of program success. Two states—Kentucky and Louisiana—scaled up AO to all community colleges. Nearly all colleges across the four states plan to continue their AO pathways, and 82 percent identified specific aspects of the model they would carry on after the grant period.

Partnerships were critical to success: State teams found that other public systems, local agencies (such as workforce investment boards) and regional employers played an integral role in promoting the success of AO students, specifically in helping provide additional resources to support operational costs and student tuition. Across all AO colleges, local workforce systems helped with recruitment and sometimes provided tuition support for students who did not qualify for Pell grants. In Kansas, during the second year of the initiative, The Kansas Board of Regents, which is the coordinating board for the 26 postsecondary community and technical colleges in the state, leveraged its partnership with the Kansas Department for Children and Families to use Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds for tuition scholarships for students eligible for cash benefits. In addition, colleges’ connections to employer partners provided opportunities for work-based learning and student employment. By the end of the implementation period, the number of AO colleges with employer partners increased from 55 percent in the first year to 70 percent in the third year.

Internal and external perceptions of low-skilled adult learners changed: The report emphasizes the progress that the colleges and states made in changing the overall culture and attitudes toward adult education students, resulting in increased student engagement. As students experienced academic successes—often for the first time ever—many began to view themselves as fully integrated members of their college community.

Team teaching was popular and perceived as promising for students: Initially, career and technical education (CTE) faculty at the AO colleges expressed concerns about the specific role of an adult education instructor in the CTE classroom, but those who engaged in team teaching became more positive about the approach over time. By the end of the grant period, some CTE faculty even discussed incorporating an adult education instructor in non-AO classes. Students were also enthusiastic about the model and hoped for more exposure to team-taught classes.

The AO navigators were integral to student success: “Navigators” or “success coaches” are important to help connect students to necessary services. AO students received additional support from dedicated staff members, often referred to as navigators, who connected them to needed services inside or outside the college, including tutoring opportunities and individualized case management. Students reported that college staff supported them on a range of academic, employment, financial, and personal issues. Colleges also noted that navigators are the primary differentiator between AO and the traditional community college experience.

Additional implementation reports will be issued in fall 2016.


About Accelerating Opportunity

Accelerating Opportunity seeks to change the way Adult Basic 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.

The Urban Institute and its partners, the Aspen Institute and George Washington University, are conducting an independent, third-party evaluation of the AO initiative.

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.