1 in 6 adults lacks basic skills

One in six U.S. adults lacks basic literacy and numeracy skills, according to an international survey by the OECD.

We “have a pretty good handle on what works,” writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral. Integrating literacy and numeracy instruction into job training has proven effective, as shown by Washington’s I-BEST program.

However, federal policy now denies aid to high school dropouts seeking college job training. Until the law changed in 2012, dropouts could qualify for aid if they showed an “ability to benefit” by passing a basic skills assessment or earning six postsecondary academic credits.

This enabled community colleges to offer integrated education and training programs (like the widely-touted I-BEST) to millions of adults who could not afford college and lacked a high school credential, many of them immigrants and/or working adults. Despite evidence from a federally-funded experiment that adults who earned six credits were just as likely to complete their postsecondary program of study as students entering with a high school credential, this option was eliminated for students in 2012.

In addition, key workforce training programs have lost more than $1 billion—more than 30 percent – in federal funding since 2010.

Feds will fund adult ed, job training mix


C.J. Forza, an I-BEST student, is learning auto mechanics at Shoreline Community College near Seattle.

The new workforce bill will make it easier for community colleges to teach basic skills and job skills at the same time, writes Mary Alice McCarthy on EdCentral.

Under the original law, adult education funds could only be used to pay for instruction in basic math and literacy skills leading to the attainment of a high school credential. The funds could not pay for job training. Adult education students had to complete their basic education program before they could even qualify for programs teaching postsecondary job skills, even though the desire to gain skills and credentials for work is probably what brought them to the adult education program in the first place. Not surprisingly, many individuals failed to complete their basic skills program, leaving them without a high school credential or job skills.

Washington state’s I-BEST program has proven successful by putting an adult ed teacher and a job trainer in the same classroom. Students can improve their reading and math skills and work toward a GED while earning an industry-recognized vocational credential. Integrating basic skills instruction with job training increases motivation and persistence, writes McCarthy. “The program has become a national model and has been adopted by states and community colleges across the country.”

But funding has been a problem because of the federal ban on using adult education funds to pay faculty teaching the technical skills. Until 2012, dropouts could qualify for federal aid under the “Ability to Benefit” (ATB) provision, if they could demonstrate the ability to do college-level work by completing six credit hours. But Congress removed the Ability to Benefit provision two years ago, making it hard for low-skilled adults to access job training.

The new workforce law “is moving toward providing greater flexibility to providers of integrated programs for low-skilled adults,” writes McCarthy. However, the adult ed budget is just over $600 million, far too little to meet the need. If ATB isn’t restored, most of the nation’s 36 million low-skilled adults will not be able to improve their reading, writing or job skills.

QuickStart helps adults ‘hit the ground running’

Starting college can be difficult for adult students, who often have rusty academic skills. Zane State College (ZSC) in Ohio has developed a pre-enrollment program that offers “cultural and social supports, computer literacy and academic skills-building,” reports Community College Daily.

QuickStart, which is free to students, is helping students avoid remedial courses. Of the 56 percent who complete the program, 60 percent are able to start in college-level reading and 40 percent in college-level composition.

Three other Ohio community colleges have adopted QuickStart.

QuickStart participants can earn three credits by mastering basic math and writing skills. They’re ready to “hit the ground running” when they officially enroll at ZSC, said Becky Ament, dean of developmental education.  “It lowers the stakes for adult learners, easing concerns about failure,” she said.

Originally designed in an online format, QuickStart was adapted when students said they preferred face-to-face interaction, said Ament. “When you’re trying to build someone’s confidence, that encouragement and praise and mentoring is so important.”

I-BEST: Where job training works

If adults have to study basic skills before they start job training, most won’t make it. In Washington state, they can do both at the same time, reports NPR. Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, better known as I-BEST, is getting adult students into the workforce quickly. More than 20 states are trying the model.

Candy Benteu teaches child development at Green River Community College. Co-teacher Rachel Rogers teaches reading, math and English. The two work together to make sure students understand idioms.

“Candy would say these phrases like, ‘Fly by the seat of your pants.’ And I would interrupt, and I’d say, ‘Does that mean I’m throwing my pants up in the air and flying?’ And she would laugh and the students would laugh because that’s what they’re thinking,” Rogers says. “By my modeling that, it gives them permission that it is OK to ask questions and that’s the sign of an intelligent and a good student.”

Benteu and Rogers also role-play appropriate workplace behavior, those “soft skills” — such as how to work in a team, follow rules and show up on time — that are critical to success. They may seem obvious, but are not.

“We have lots of conversations about the way we dress and the way we smell. Too much perfume, too much incense, not enough deodorant,” Rogers says.

Like most adult ed students, I-BEST students often are high school dropouts who struggle with reading and math.  Many don’t speak English fluently. job trainingAt I-BEST, they can take community college courses that lead to certificates in nearly 200 fields such as medical billing, welding, auto mechanics building maintenance  and more.

All programs must lead to jobs paying at least $13 an hour, which is considered a living wage in the state.

Students at Shoreline Community College learn about the physics of manual transmissions in class, then change into overalls to work on transmissions in the shop.

Today’s cars are complex, says instructor Mark Hankins. By the end of the program, “they can go out and do a brake job, they can do fluid replacement, they can do inspections. And those are the kind of jobs that there’s a big need for.”

C.J. Forza says his brain “just clicks with engines.” He dropped out of school in the 12th grade; he’s now 31. He loves cars so much he works part time in a mechanic shop already. Forza’s now learning the “why,” not just the “how,” of repairs.

“Instead of just guessing at what it is, I’m more able to figure out, OK, this issue can be caused by this, this or this,” he says.

Forza will earn a certificate in general auto mechanics in one year, boosting his pay from $10 an hour to $15.

D.C. opens community college prep school

A new Washington, D.C. charter school, Community College Prep, will prepare adults for jobs, online learning and college. The school will target low-income single parents, young dropouts, would-be online learners and aged-out foster kids. It will focus on teaching basic reading, writing, math and computer literacy skills and helping students prepare for the GED and the community college placement exam.

CC Prep students will enjoy a flexible schedule and lots of small group interaction. Experienced teachers will work with these adult learners to create individual learning plans and students will have the opportunity to learn how to “learn on- line” in a supportive lab environment where instruction is tailored to individual needs and pace.

Pearson will provide workforce education, self-paced courses, mentoring and online tutoring. Students will take Computer Concepts, Workforce Readiness, Interpersonal Communication Skills, Effective Business Writing Skills, Internet Search and Job Search.

Community colleges are urging adult ed students to take the GED this year. Next year, the exam will be much harder. “The new tests will only be available online, and they will be aligned with the Common Core State Standards and the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, reports Community College Times.

California plans community college ‘scorecard’

The new federal College Scorecard will let students and parents see “where you can get the most bang for your educational buck,” said President Obama in his State of the Union speech. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office will launch its own community college scorecard, reports EdSource Today.

The federal scorecard is “very four-year centric data,” explained Patrick Perry, Vice Chancellor for Technology, Research and Information Systems for California Community Colleges. “It tracks first-time, full-time freshmen degree-seeking students. That’s a small percentage of who’s coming to us.”

The community college scorecard, known as AARC 2.0, will track six “momentum points” correlated with student success. These are based on progress over six years.

Persistence Rate – the percentage of students seeking a degree or transfer to a four-year school who remain enrolled for three consecutive terms,

30 Unit Rate – the percentage of first-time students seeking a degree or transfer who earn at least 30 units,

Student Progress and Attainment Rate – the percentage of degree-or-transfer seeking students – separated into cohorts of those who start in basic skills and those who begin in college-level classes – who earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer to a four-year college or university,

Basic Skills Progress Rate – the percentage of students who start out in remedial classes who go on to succeed in college-level courses,

Career Technical Education – the percentage of students who complete a career technical education program and earn a degree, earn a certificate or transfer, and

Career Development and College Preparation Rate – the completion rate for students in non-credit career development and non-credit college prep courses, such as English as a second language, which are offered at about a third of the state’s community colleges.

In addition, student progress data will be disaggregated by race, ethnicity and gender.

Massachusetts links colleges, employers

Massachusetts’ 15 community colleges are working with industry on workforce development with the help of a $20 million federal grant, reports Worcester Business Journal.

The Massachusetts Community Colleges and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda (MCCWDTA) is redesigning degree and certificate programs in six high-demand industries: health care, biotechnology and life sciences, advanced manufacturing, clean energy and sustainability, information technology and financial services.

Students will brush up on academic skills while training for jobs, said Assistant Secretary of Labor Jane Oates in a speech at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester. “They cannot sit in a classroom for two semesters because they need to brush up on fractions and decimals,” Oates said.

College and career navigators will help students enroll in courses and use the One‐Stop Career Center on each campus under the new initiative. Industry representatives, college administrators and faculty will design job training programs together.

CC fast-tracks catch-up class

Grand Rapids Community College is fast-tracking remedial education to boost success rates, reports Michigan Live.

Long plagued by a high failure rate, the college is now offering some students the opportunity to bypass at least one of their semester-long developmental classes in reading, math and English by completing them in a condensed three-week period.

Fast Track students take classes for three hours a day, four days. In August, 141 students qualified for college-level courses.

“For adults with children at home and complicated lives, it helps them get their degree more quickly,” said Cynthia Martin, Dean of Adult and Developmental Education. “Plus “it saves them money.”

Less than half  of students who take basic math – arithmetic, fractions and decimals – pass the course at GRCC.

Lauro Mireles, an 18-year-old Holland resident, chose Fast Track instead of developmental math.  It’s a quicker way to get what you want,” said Mireles, who’s pursuing an associate degree in automotive technology.

Community colleges rethink remedial placement

Community colleges are rethinking placement tests and looking for ways to start more students at the college level, reports Education Week.

About 60 percent of community college students are start in developmental education. Only 25 percent finish a credential in eight years, compared to 40 percent of students who start at the college level.

Long Beach City College in California now uses high school grades as an alternative placement method for recent graduates.

Community College of Baltimore County places some remedial writing students in a college-level composition class — and a skill-building class taught by the same instructor.

The school has found the intensive experience more than doubles the chance that a student will pass the credit-bearing class.

“We are no longer keeping students out of the credit course or isolating them with others who have weak writing skills. They are with stronger students,” said Peter Adams, the director of the program, who is working with schools around the country to adapt the model. “This is a way to shorten the developmental pipeline.”

When students study for the placement test, they’re more likely to place into college-level courses. Community College of Denver now publishes a review workbook and offers free tutoring for the placement test. On the first day of remedial classes, instructors make sure students are in the right level.

The first time Angelo Gallegos took the Accuplacer math test at CCD right after high school, he didn’t take it seriously and scored at the lowest level. Not wanting to waste time or money in a remedial class, he worked four years before returning to school.

To prepare for the test the second time, Mr. Gallegos, 26, went to Accuplacer tutoring sessions on campus over the summer from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. up to three times a week and studied at home another three hours a night.

He passed the test, started at the college level and became an honor student.

Design classes for ‘new traditional’ students

The “new traditional” student — especially at community colleges — has been out of high school for years and has rusty academic and study skills, writes Rob Jenkins, a Georgia Perimeter College English professor and administrator, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Many have jobs and family responsibilities. It’s time for instructors to design classes for adult students, he writes. Young students will benefit too.

To start with, instructors should relax “rules aimed at keeping 18-year-olds from ditching class or dragging in late,” Jenkins writes. Adult students need more flexibility.

Older students (and quite a few younger ones) will benefit from “frequent refresher sessions to reinforce basic skills” and tutoring referrals.

“Placing course materials online, creating inexpensive course packs, or taking other steps to lower the cost of books and supplies” benefits all students, but especially those who are supporting themselves, he writes.

Try to regularly establish a clear link between course concepts and “real-world” outcomes. Show them how what they’re learning might apply beyond the classroom, in their professional lives. Take every opportunity to incorporate materials from nonacademic sources, such as newspapers, magazines, and Web sites. Structure your assignments to mimic real-life work situations.

Finally, make sure older students feel valued for their experience and perspective on life. “Choose readings that might be relevant to their situations, and then structure writing and presentation assignments that encourage them to draw upon their experiences,” Jenkins concludes.