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Lessons Learned from Accelerating Opportunity

May 14, 2018

At a Glance

What are the most important aspects of combining Adult Basic Education and career and technical training? After four years of building the Accelerating Opportunity initiative, JFF has the knowledge to help partners replicate and scale this successful approach.

Randall Wilson

Accelerating Opportunity 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.

Based on four years of designing and managing Accelerating Opportunity, JFF and its partners have uncovered critical lessons for replicating and scaling this promising initiative for adult learners. These lessons address both specific aspects of the Accelerating Opportunity model, and their successful implementation. Lessons learned include:

  • Team teaching or integrated basic skills and technical instruction, proved to be a challenging yet powerful vehicle for reaching students and promoting their growth, even while CTE instructors were reluctant at first to embrace it.
  • Comprehensive supports to address adult learners’ barriers, such as success coaches and mandatory advising, are as central to the model as team teaching. Support services must be a required component of the model and a primary focus of college implementation activities.
  • Career pathways: Colleges need to offer students more options for pathways in a variety of industries, and extend them to offer more than one credential with labor market value.

Most critically, the Accelerating Opportunity model is scalable with modest investments. In three years it has grown from 4 states and 33 community colleges to 7 states implementing 194 integrated pathways in 85 colleges. Many states contributed more than a required 25% match to their programs. But achieving momentum and scale requires effort from the start: putting in place state policies needed, and the authority and capacity to carry them out.

The Accelerating Opportunity experience also demonstrates that governance of Adult Basic Education in a state’s community college system, by itself, is no guarantee of successful scaling of integrated pathways. More critical is the quality and direction of state leadership, and the presence of programs and initiatives that complement Accelerating Opportunity’s mission, both statewide and within the colleges. Finally, setting a high bar for states and colleges, with nonnegotiable program elements—including fidelity to the program model of team teaching, pathways, and supports—brings results, but these expectations must be communicated effectively from the state to the college level.

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