Recognizing and Supporting Integrated Pathways in Adult Education

Published aug. 28, 2014

Originally posted as part of the Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy's blog on August 19th. 

In this blog, JFF Program Director Gloria Mwase, reflects on the expansion and integration of adult education across the country, and the continued need for federal support to promote the success of integrated pathways.

To learn about other innovative pathways initiatives like this, join us at Bridging the Gap: Postsecondary Pathways for Underprepared Learners. The conference is April 8-9, 2015 in New Orleans. 

The last few years have been an exciting time in adult education, as prior efforts to connect these services to career pathways are expanding and solidifying! We see strong recognition of adult education’s contributions to regional economies through the development of a skilled workforce and more educated citizens. Adult education’s role as an important partner is reflected in a number of new collaborations with postsecondary institutions, employers, and sector-based projects.

Without a doubt, one of the great accomplishments is the focus on integrated pathways, which align ABE, ESL, and GED preparation with postsecondary occupational training.  Building on the highly successful outcomes of I-BEST, 15 states are now implementing integrated pathways through Accelerating Opportunity, Accelerate TEXAS, and other initiatives. In the 5 core states of Accelerating Opportunity alone (Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana), some 6,000 lower-skilled adults have obtained nearly 8,000 postsecondary credentials, with more than 40% earning 12 credits or more and over 1,200 already entering employment. Instructors are contextualizing their curricula by integrating occupational content into reading, writing, and math courses. Adult education providers in community colleges, school districts, CBOs, and other settings are implementing these programs to connect their students to economic opportunity. In fact, the strong emphasis on alignment with regional employment demand is another significant adult education achievement.  Many more adult ed providers seek to understand career opportunities in their regions and are engaging Career Navigators to share this information with their students and connect them with additional education and training. A growing number of providers are using labor market tools, including real-time labor market information—which draws data on skills, competencies, and certifications from employer online job postings to support career counseling activities. Furthermore, many programs are incorporating employability skills (e.g., team work, problem-solving, communications, professionalism) to make sure their students have the skills employers seek.

There is strong evidence that these approaches work and move lower-skilled adults to good jobs. Our challenge is to expand these models, so that even more adult education students can take advantage of them. One of the greatest barriers is the lack of funding to support students without a GED or high school diploma. The elimination of federal Ability to Benefit provisions, which allowed students who passed a test or successfully complete two college credit-level courses to receive federal financial aid, has created a significant gap in resources available to support this population. States and colleges are finding creative approaches to filling these financial aid gaps, but their efforts are insufficient to fully scale up these programs. In the future, we hope to see the reinstatement of this provision for students in high-performing career programs like integrated pathways.

At the same time, adult education programs must meet the challenge of increased academic rigor to support GED attainment and college and career transitions. There is much experimentation in classrooms right now, but we must consolidate our knowledge of proven and promising instructional strategies and approaches to meet college and career readiness standards and to ensure that more students can clear the higher academic bar in a reasonable length of time. Finally, stronger engagement with employer partners will be essential going forward, in both program implementation and advocacy efforts.  We are seeing a lot of eagerness on the part of adult ed providers to collaborate with employers, such as the group of providers in Texas that worked with employers to implement their Counseling to Careers activities. Coordination with other educational institutions (community colleges, high schools) through sector-based and place-based strategies will ensure that we align and streamline our involvement with these partners, and also that we are preparing adult education students to meet industry needs.