Breaking Through

Breaking Through

Helping Colleges Advance Low-Skilled Adults into Careers

Strengthening community college efforts to help low-skilled adults enter and succeed in occupational and technical degree programs that lead to family-supporting careers.

Nate Anderson
Senior Director
617.728.4446 x213

Very low skill levels prevent millions of Americans from earning credentials that lead to family-supporting careers.

This initiative breaks through the barriers that get students stuck in remedial education and accelerates them through pathways to credentials. Breaking Through works with state-level college networks in:

  • Kentucky
  • Michigan
  • North Carolina
  • Texas
  • Native-American Tribal Colleges (Oklahoma, Minnesota, Montana, North & South Dakota)


For too many adults in our country, very low academic and occupational skills have created almost insurmountable barriers to finding stable work at a decent wage. The academic needs of these adults are so great that they are unable to qualify for most postsecondary education programs. Even entry into technical training is out of reach. Whether they dropped out of high school or earned a diploma or GED, their literacy and math skills are below the eighth-grade level.

Four critical issues have limited the ability of community colleges to serve these lower-skilled adult students:

  1. Most Adult Basic Education programs proceed slowly, despite the urgency students feel to move quickly into good jobs.
  2. Few precollege programs provide the supports that many adults with low literacy skills require to overcome complex barriers to success.
  3. There are almost no financial aid incentives for low-skilled adults to invest the time needed to become eligible for college.
  4. Adult Basic Education programs are so disconnected from one another, even when housed in the same institution, that all but the most determined students are discouraged from completing a pathway into and through college.

Breaking Through enables lower-skilled adults to attain postsecondary credentials with labor market value. It helps community colleges accelerate Adult Basic Education students faster by combining basic skills and occupational training into one curriculum.

To date, 41 community colleges in 22 states have used Breaking Through’s four high-leverage strategies as a framework for their Adult Basic Education programs.

Four High-leverage Strategies
  1. Accelerated learning: Students learn material faster when it’s contextualized in terms of how they’ll apply it in their jobs and daily lives.
  2. Comprehensive supports: Social support services are crucial to helping students overcome non-academic barriers to completion that may be related to work or family.
  3. Labor market payoffs: Course content teaches skills that local employers need now.
  4. Aligning programs for low-skilled adults: Clear pathways from college into careers help students navigate their own process and stay motivated. Breaking Through links college programs with community-based programs to achieve this.

Breaking Through's recent accomplishments:

  • State-level networks are thriving in Kentucky, Michigan, and North Carolina. 
  • All 15 Massachusetts community colleges will soon have access to Breaking Through programs, thanks to a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.


  • 443 students earned 445 credentials at six Tribal Colleges over an 18-month partnership with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
  • 6 national organizations spread Breaking Through’s successful model by launching Accelerating Opportunity, a seven-state, $15 million initiative to change how Adult Basic Education is delivered at the state level.
  • AO-Second-Year

    The Second Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges

    Many new findings from year two of the Accelerating Opportunity initiative, which helps our nation’s lowest-skilled adults earn college credentials and enter higher-wage jobs faster by combining the Adult Basic Education and career and technical training they need into one integrated curriculum, have been released. Don't forget to check out the year one report and student success stories, also linked here.

    Learn More
  • Employer Engagement

    A Resource Guide to Engaging Employers

    This resource guide presents working models of successful employer engagement and lessons for securing and sustaining partnerships with employers. It was written to help education and training providers fully realize the value of strategic, long-term, and intensive partnerships with employers. The resource leads readers thorugh a continuum of activities supporting these partnerships, with each level involving deeper engagement and integration of employers into the work

    Learn More