Helping Low-Skilled Adults Enter and Succeed in College and Careers
Breaking Through promotes and strengthens the efforts of 41 community colleges in 22 states to help low-skilled adults prepare for and succeed in occupational and technical degree programs. Counteracting high attrition rates in adult basic education and developmental education programs, Breaking Through colleges improve outcomes by focusing on strategies that create effective pathways through pre-college and degree-level programs and result in college completion. The initiative is proving that low-skilled adults can advance through remediation and credential programs within a reasonable time and with reasonable success.
Strategies to Success
Breaking Through defines “low-skilled adults” as those performing below the eighth-grade level on reading and math tests. For the 35 to 50 million adults that fall into this category, low academic skills represent a serious barrier to finding family-supporting employment or entering technical training programs that lead to career advancement. Breaking Through students include those who dropped out of high school and those who have a high school credential or GED but whose skill levels in math and reading are below the eighth-grade level.
Breaking Through helps low-skilled adults acquire skills necessary to succeed in postsecondary education and attain credentials. It rests on four high-leverage strategies to develop career and college pathways for students to advance their studies or enter family-supporting careers.
- ACCELERATED LEARNING. Through the innovative use of assessment tools, restructured curricula, targeted instruction, contextualization, and other strategies, change delivery methods and content so that students can meet their goals faster.
- COMPREHENSIVE SUPPORT SERVICES. Make academic, economic, and social support services easily accessible to students whose life challenges put them at risk of not completing their education.
- LABOR MARKET PAYOFFS. Restructure both pre-college and college-level instruction to connect course content with the workplace and to connect students with actual employers and workplaces.
- ALIGNING PROGRAMS FOR LOW-SKILLED ADULTS. Reorganize college programs and link them with external programs to provide students with a better understanding of how they can move into and through college, and to provide clear pathways that enable them to do so.
Breaking Through colleges use the four strategies as a framework for creating programs customized to local needs. Some colleges serve recently unemployed factory workers; others focus on entry into health care professions. Some colleges seek to develop programs for English language learners or GED students.
The Breaking Through Components
Expanding Awareness: Breaking Through documents best practices at participating community colleges and collects evidence on how those practices make a difference in the lives of students. Many of these practices and outcomes are described in the Breaking Through Practice Guide, released in spring 2010. With outcomes indicating the framework’s success, Breaking Through is scaling up to reach more colleges, more students, and more states. The initiative is reaching out to community college leaders, practitioners, and policymakers about the need to serve low-skilled adults, and it offers peer learning meetings to participating institutions.
Scaling Up: Seven colleges are exploring how they can scale up Breaking Through programs to reach more students by considering a number of innovative approaches, including partnerships with other organizations. The initiative is cataloguing these approaches for dissemination to the Breaking Through network.
State-Level College Networks: Breaking Through is expanding its Michigan network, which focuses on connecting dislocated workers with innovative postsecondary programs. In North Carolina, a network funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready for College initiative focuses on innovative strategies to connect out-of-school youth to GED programs and college. With funding from the Walmart Foundation, this North Carolina network is expanding through grants to seven colleges. The Kentucky Community & Technical College System has established a statewide Breaking Through network, with an emphasis on peer learning and collaborative design.
Tribal Colleges: Breaking Through, collaborating with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, is establishing programs at six tribal colleges. Breaking Through will provide technical assistance for the campuses and create a peer learning network among them.
South Texas: In the Rio Grande valley, South Texas College and community-based organizations are using the Breaking Through framework to develop career pathways for English language learners with low native-language literacy.
State Policy: 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 strand is part of the Adult Degree Completion Commitment, funded by the Lumina Foundation for Education. It targets adult students with some college credit who reenter postsecondary education needing considerable remediation. These students represent a significant and growing segment of the adult student population, particularly dislocated workers who are long removed from their college experience, who have earned nonacademic credits, or who enter college needing considerable remediation.
Evaluation: Third-party evaluators track outcomes for Breaking Through students and their institutions. At the same time, evaluators analyze the process of implementing Breaking Through projects to help understand the impact of policies and practices at colleges and in the initiative as a whole.
Forty-one colleges in 22 states participate in Breaking Through:
- Central New Mexico Community College, Albuquerque, NM
- Cerritos Community College, Norwalk, CA
- City College of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
- Community College of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, NV
- Comanche Nation College, Lawton, OK
- Community College of Denver, Denver, CO
- Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, OH
- Davidson County Community College, Thomasville, NC
- Durham Technical Community College, Durham, NC
- Forsyth Technical Community College, Winston-Salem, NC
- Gateway Community & Technical College, Covington, KY
- Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Rapids, MI
- Henry Ford Community College, Dearborn, MI
- Houston Community College, Houston, TX
- LaGuardia Community College/City University of New York, New York, NY
- Lake Michigan College, Benton Harbor, MI
- Leech Lake Tribal College, Cass Lake, MN
- Little Big Horn College, Crow Agency, MT
- Macomb Community College, Warren, MI
- Mott Community College, Flint, MI
- North Shore Community College, Danvers, MA
- Northampton Community College, Bethlehem, PA
- Northwest Indian College, Bellingham, WA
- Owensboro Community and Technical College, Owensboro, KY
- Pamlico Community College, Grantsboro, NC
- Piedmont Virginia Community College, Charlottesville, VA
- Pitt Community College, Winterville, NC
- Portland Community College, Portland, OR
- St. Clair County Community College, Port Huron, MI
- St. Philip's College, San Antonio, TX
- Salish Kootenai College, Pablo, MT
- Sitting Bull College, Fort Yates, ND
- South Piedmont Community College, Polkton, NC
- South Seattle Community College, Seattle, WA
- South Texas College, McAllen, TX
- Southeast Arkansas College, Pine Bluff, AR
- Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College, Cumberland, KY
- Tacoma Community College, Tacoma, WA
- Tallahassee Community College, Tallahassee, FL
- Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor, MI
- York County Community College, Wells, ME
Breaking Through is a collaboration of JFF and the National Council for Workforce Education.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation have supported programs that help low-skilled adults prepare for and succeed in community college occupational and technical degree programs. The Ford Foundation has supported state policy efforts. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds data collection, documentation, and scale-up at five community colleges and peer learning activities across the initiative. The Walmart Foundation supports technical assistance to the tribal college network and the North Carolina state network.
For more information, contact:
- Building the Foundation for Success: Case Studies of Breaking Through Tribal Colleges and Universities
- Impact Profile of Doralee Ortez: Native-American Nurses "Break Through" Basic Ed Barrier
- Forging New Pathways: The Impact of the Breaking Through Initiative in Michigan
- Scaling Up Breaking Through: 2010 Evaluations
- Achieving Ambitious Goals: Case Studies of Scaling-Up Programs for Advancing Low-Skilled Adults
- Leaving No Worker Behind: Community Colleges Retrain the Michigan Workforce—and Themselves
- Scaling Up Preliminary Data Analysis
- The Key to Prosperity: The Skills of the American Worker
- Advancing the Frontline Health Care Workforce
- Bringing the Front Lines to the Forefront: A National Conversation on the Critical Need to Invest in Workers on the Front Lines of Health Care
- The Breaking Through Practice Guide
- Better Together: Realigning Pre-College Skills Development Programs to Achieve Greater Academic Success for Adult Learners
- Pushing the Envelope: State Policy Innovations in Financing Higher Education for Workers Who Study
- Advancing Adults into Community College Programs: Data Tools from Breaking Through
- Overcoming Obstacles, Optimizing Opportunities: State Policies to Increase Postsecondary Attainment for Low-Skilled Adults
- Breaking Through: Helping Low-Skilled Adults Enter and Succeed in College and Careers
- Breaking Through: The Initiative After One Year