The integrated career pathways model, first developed and piloted in Washington State, is a proven approach that enables Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English language learners to earn postsecondary, credit-bearing credentials. As we discussed in a previous post, Jobs for the Future has expanded the I-BEST model nationally through the Accelerating Opportunity initiative to 7 additional states and 78 community colleges. Although the evaluation is in its early stages, results from this expansion are promising. Over the last 30 months, the initiative has enrolled 6,200 students, roughly half of whom lack a high school diploma or GED. These students have succeeded in earning almost 8,000 industry-recognized credentials, which is a remarkable achievement given that historically just 30% of ABE students attain any postsecondary education, and under 3% are able to earn an Associate's degree.
One of the primary challenges to implementing an integrated career pathways model is the cost, both to the college and the student. A team teaching approach is key to this model as are substantial wraparound student services, which means that the per-student cost to the college is higher than traditional adult education classes and college-level career and technical classes. These models are also intended to serve students without a high school diploma or equivalent, a population that is currently ineligible for Pell grants, which means the cost of tuition, if unsubsidized through another funding source, can be prohibitive to students. Many colleges shy away from implementing integrated career pathway programs because of these issues.
Fortunately, there are solutions available. Jobs for the Future, as part of its policy efforts in support of Accelerating Opportunity, will be releasing a series of blogs that explores some of the state-level solutions to funding challenges associated with integrated pathways models. The states we will highlight—Washington, Illinois, and Kansas—have all recognized that investing in integrated pathways models at scale will enable them to offer career opportunities to their lowest-income citizens. This investment in turn reduces these people’s dependence on state and federal support and increases states tax revenues. These states have done the math, and realize that spending state resources up front for successful, data-supported programs like Accelerating Opportunity and I-BEST will net much greater benefits to society down the road than traditional “black hole” remedial programs for students who are not yet ready for college. And they have realized that investing in academically underprepared learners is a priority now, not something that can wait for the slow-turning cogs of federal legislation to reinstate ability to benefit, or commit new resources to support the educational aspirations of low-income Americans.
Please follow this series as we outline several of the innovative approaches taken by our Accelerating Opportunity states to finance their integrated pathways models.