Press Release: Year Two of Accelerating Opportunity Initiative Reveals Promising Efforts to Support Student Advancement in Community Colleges

Team teaching and support services encouraged student success and a positive cultural shift across campuses; Students expressed high level of satisfaction

Media Contact: Binoli Dua, bdua@anthologycommunications.net, 202.630.4043

BOSTON, MA (March 23, 2015) -- An independent evaluation by the Urban Institute of the second year of the Accelerating Opportunity (AO) initiative finds community colleges in four states considerably improving their capacity to meet students’ educational and employment needs. Accelerating Opportunity, a Jobs for the Future (JFF) initiative, is designed to transform how states work with their adult education programs and community/technical colleges to provide training for the millions of adult learners who fall below basic literacy levels.

The Second Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges highlights the success of community colleges and AO students in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. The report documents the progress these states have made in developing and recruiting students for career pathways that integrate basic skill development and occupational training.  The report also highlights community colleges’ success in building strong internal and external partnerships to strengthen programs and support students.

Increase in Pathways Offered and Students Enrolled

 

Year 1

Year 2

Total

Increase

Pathways

89

120

a

35%

Students

2,370

2,874

5,244

21%

a The same pathways may continue between years 1 and 2, and therefore a total is not meaningful.

Source: Anderson et al. 2015. The Second Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Tables 1 and 2.

The Year Two evaluation emphasizes how team teaching and targeted student support services were the catalyst for a positive cultural shift among students and faculty. Many career and technical education instructors—who were initially skeptical of team teaching—began to see the value of having a basic skills instructor in the classroom and found ways to optimize their time together. AO college staff also widely recognized that a “navigator” outside the classroom is an important and essential resource in supporting AO students. These navigators played an instrumental role in linking students to support services available both on campus and in the community.

In a companion report, findings from a comprehensive student survey provide a more complete picture of AO students and document their program experiences. “The report shows that some AO students who previously did not believe they could do well in college are successfully engaging in their classes and are receptive to the alternative teaching methods and support services that are a fundamental aspect of our initiative,” said Barbara Endel, AO Senior Program Director for Jobs for the Future. “Most importantly, students are showing an invested interest in their courses and have gone on to find employment in their targeted fields of study. And, many are striving to attain even higher credentials.”

Funding and Scaling the Program                          

In the second year of the Accelerating Opportunity initiative, the participating states repurposed and developed new funding policies to support the programmatic costs of AO implementation and to aid in its sustainability after the end of the grant period.

“In Year Two, we realized that with modest investments on a state level, scalability is very much possible,” said Lazaro Lopez, Acting Chairman of the Illinois Community College Board. “Through the modification of policies and a combination of small grants and intensive professional development, Illinois has been able to add 17 new colleges, bringing the total number of AO colleges in our state to 25.”

Added Barbara Endel, “After making initial investments in pathway development, AO colleges needed fewer resources to serve more students in the second year.”

Other key findings from the Year Two Report, based on site visits to each of the four states, a survey of the participating colleges and other program documentation, include:

Cultural shift and student satisfaction: Faculty members who were skeptical at the start of Year One became champions of AO, working to dispel stereotypes. Meanwhile, more students began to see themselves as college students, with access to college services that were once inaccessible and the desire to pursue additional credentials.

The continued implementation of integrated instruction and team teaching methods: Colleges continued to bring new faculty into the initiative and train them in various styles of team teaching and instructional approaches that integrate basic skill development and occupational training. Site visits indicated an increase in buy-in for AO and team teaching among technical faculty.

Acknowledgement of navigators as a key support for AO students: “Navigators” or “success coaches” are important to help connect students to necessary services. Students reported that college staff supported them on a range of academic, employment, financial, and personal issues. AO states and colleges emphasized the value of such supports as a central component of the AO model.

Colleges further developed external partnerships and responded to labor market needs: Colleges facilitated partnerships with community-based organizations, the public workforce system and area employers, all of which enabled AO students to access the support needed to obtain employment that is responsive to labor market needs. Nearly one in three AO students were placed into some form of work-based learning, such as internships, apprenticeships, or nursing clinicals.

Student Employment Activities
 

Year 1

Year 2

Total

% of Enrolled Students

Placed into Work-Based Learning

663

986

1,649

31%

Hired into Any Job

456

1,173

1,629

31%

Hired into a Job Related to Training

403

972

1,375

26%

Source: Anderson et al. 2015. The Second Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute. Table 4.

College resources contributed to AO decreased while the program began scaling up:

In the second year, the median value of resources expended on running AO across the colleges decreased by 18 percent, even as the number of students, pathways, and outputs increased.

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

The 2014 Accelerating Opportunity Student Survey

The 2014 Accelerating Opportunity Student Survey is based on responses from 444 students participating in the AO evaluation in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. The survey results show that students are enthusiastic about pursuing further education beyond the initial AO pathway, with 60 percent expressing a desire to pursue additional credentials, 27 percent wishing to attain an Associate’s degree, and 23 percent aiming for a Bachelor’s. Almost 90 percent of students felt the program adequately prepared them, or prepared them very well, for work in their field of training or for further education.

About Accelerating Opportunity

Accelerating Opportunity seeks to change the way Adult Basic Education is delivered by putting students on track to earn a postsecondary credential and providing them with the support needed to succeed. The initiative targets workers who are underprepared for today’s demanding job market and builds on the legacy of JFF’s innovative adult education initiative Breaking Through, as well as Washington State’s I-BEST program. Accelerating Opportunity is supported by a strategic partnership of five of the nation’s leading philanthropies.

About Jobs for the Future

Jobs for the Future works to ensure that all underprepared young people and workers have the skills and credentials needed to succeed in our economy by creating solutions that catalyze change in our education and workforce delivery systems. Working with our partners, JFF designs and drives the adoption of innovative and scalable education and career training models and systems that lead from college readiness to career advancement. We also develop and advocate for the federal and state policies needed to support these solutions.

www.jff.org