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


Woven through the Breaking Through work in college networks are several components that support and promote the development of pathways for low-skilled adult learners. These are: raising awareness, supporting replication, identifying and developing state policies, evaluating outcomes and evidence, and developing tools and trainings to support colleges and states in implementing the Breaking Through strategies.

Expanding Awareness

Breaking Through documents best practices at participating community colleges and collects evidence on how those practices make a difference in students’ lives. Many of these practices and outcomes are described in The Breaking Through Practice Guide. This research and documentation enable Breaking Through to reach more colleges and states that are interested in implementing these strategies. The initiative is reaching out to community college leaders, practitioners, and policymakers about the need to serve low-skilled adults. It also offers peer-learning meetings to participating institutions.

Supporting Replication

Breaking Through develops tools to assist colleges in adapting the initiative’s strategies.

Counseling to Careers helps college counselors use labor market information to develop and better connect students with more seamless postsecondary pathways that lead to high-demand, high-wage, career-track employment. Counseling to Careers features training that enables staff to acquire the most up-to-date information on growth industries and associated postsecondary programs to identify “best bet” options for students’ career planning. Counseling to Careers also offers consultative services designed to support programs that identify the technical and professional skills, experience, and education most sought after by employers, and that help align curricula and training to those employers’ preferences.

Developing State Policy

A number of Breaking Through strands include a state policy component. Breaking Through identifies and disseminates information about state-level policies that support the advancement of low-skilled adults into and through college degree programs. This Breaking Through component includes policy briefs on financial aid and the alignment of remediation strategies.

Evaluating Outcomes and Evidence-based Models

As Breaking Through has matured from its demonstration and experimentation phases, the demand for a strong evidence base has increased. In its first five years, this approach to building career pathways for low-skilled adults has shown real promise, with demonstrations and innovations across 41 community colleges and 22 states. Each pathway employs accelerated learning, comprehensive support services, connections to employers and jobs, and program alignments that provide clear pathways into and through college.

As Breaking Through expands, “showing promise” is not enough. Clear and compelling evidence is necessary to make the case for investments and participation to public and private funders, as well as to educators and policymakers. To build a strong evidence base, Breaking Through programs are evaluated by leading educational researchers to determine how career pathway strategies are implemented and scaled up, and to measure their impact on students’ progress along career paths and toward college credentials. In 2009-10, evaluations were completed or initiated for the scaling up phases of selected Breaking Through programs, as well as for new programs testing this model in a high-poverty area (Texas’s Lower Rio Grande Valley) and in selected states, including North Carolina.