Press Release: First Year of Accelerating Opportunity Initiative Shows Progress and Early Accomplishments in Five States

Year One Implementation Report finds career pathways helping students with low basic skills prepare for careers in IT, health care, manufacturing and more

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BOSTON, MA (November 17, 2014) – An independent evaluation of Accelerating Opportunity, conducted by the Urban Institute, found intensive efforts underway in five states to increase the ability of adults with low basic skills to earn valued postsecondary credentials, obtain well-paying jobs and sustain rewarding careers. Accelerating Opportunity—a Jobs for the Future initiative—is a three-year project designed to transform how states work with their community and technical colleges to train and educate the millions of adult learners who fall below basic literacy levels.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, only 2.4 percent of the over 2 million adult education students annually enroll in, much less complete, any postsecondary education that would help them earn a credential allowing them to find a well-paying job.

The First Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges highlights the progress Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina have made in building these new programs, such as developing career pathways, recruiting students and solidifying partnerships with workforce agencies and community-based organizations. 

An important programmatic element of the Accelerating Opportunity model includes the development of college and career pathways for in-demand occupations accessible to people who otherwise would first have to complete an adult education program and earn a GED.

The Year One Implementation Report also reveals a culture shift underway: Accelerating Opportunity students, who speak positively about the program, are identifying themselves as college students, rather than GED or ESL students. Further, colleges are beginning to view adult education students as an important resource in their community.

“This report covers just the beginning of the major culture changes we are seeing in colleges, but also the personal changes we are seeing with students in the program,” said Barbara Endel, AO Program Director for Jobs for the Future. “In early 2015, we will be releasing our Year Two Implementation Report and the results of a student survey, which details how Accelerating Opportunity is working for participants. Many college administrators are seeing firsthand student successes and completion rates. Most importantly students are succeeding in college and getting jobs; that is a tremendous accomplishment.”

Key components of the Accelerating Opportunity model include:

  • Integration of basic skills and occupational training in career pathways
  • Team teaching with adult education and occupational skills instructors collaborating
  • Enhanced student support services

“Accelerating Opportunity is a new approach to serving underprepared students,” said Jay Box, Chancellor of the Kentucky Community & Technical College System. “In Kentucky, we are committed to ensuring students have a good job when they complete their credential or degree. We built our AO career pathways by working with regional employers and using labor market data. This flexibility was central to scaling the initiative to all of Kentucky’s 16 community and technical colleges,” added Box.

Accelerating Opportunity is also designed to change how states and colleges coordinate with government, business and community partners to fundamentally change how students with low basic skills access and succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce.

Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina received grants from Jobs for the Future to begin implementing the AO model in the 2012 spring semester and oversaw the development of career pathways in 33 community and technical colleges. A fifth state—Louisiana—began implementation in the 2012 fall semester at nine additional colleges.

Key findings from the Year One Implementation Report, based on site visits to each of the five states and a survey of all participating colleges, include:

  • Team teaching approach: Team teaching allows students to pursue both GED completion and the earning of credentials through dual enrollment, which is an important distinguisher of the AO model. Instructors employed a variety of team teaching approaches as colleges began to implement and scale the AO model.
  • Student satisfaction: AO students who participated in focus groups are mostly satisfied with their experience and many plan to continue their postsecondary education after completing their initial credentialing.
  • Labor market data, coupled with institutional capacity and student interests, drove pathway design and development: Some colleges weighed institutional capacity in addition to labor market information when selecting which pathways to offer. Thirty percent of the 112 pathways developed during the first year of implementation were in manufacturing; 28 percent were in health care. Other industry areas include maintenance, information technology, culinary arts, construction, agriculture and public safety.
  • Early positive cultural shift underway: Attitudes toward and opportunities for adult education students were beginning to change. Faculty, staff and students’ responses generally reflected willingness to open doors for adult education students. Some students also reported that they had begun to identify themselves as college students, rather than GED or ESL students.
Pathways Active in First Year of Implementation, By Industry Area

Pathways Active in First Year of Implementation, By Industry Area

For a complete summary of findings, view the full report and the executive summary.

About Accelerating Opportunity

Accelerating Opportunity is a community college initiative of Jobs for the Future in partnership with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, the National Council for Workforce Education, and the National College Transition Network. It receives funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Joyce Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Kresge Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Arthur Blank Foundation, the Woodruff Foundation, the Casey Foundation, and the University of Phoenix Foundation.

About Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future works with our partners to design and drive adoption of education and career pathways leading from college readiness to career advancement for those struggling to succeed in today’s economy.

Media Contact: Lydia Pelliccia, Media Relations