Bridge Programs in Illinois Help Students Find New Skills, Jobs

Sep 16, 2011

To highlight the importance of adult education programs, CLASP and other national organizations are participating in the third annual National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. Throughout the week, we will feature programs that help low-skilled adults prepare for postsecondary education, career advancement, and employment in a family-sustaining career.

By Marcie W.M. Foster

If a low-skilled adult student decides to seek further education or training, he or she typically has two options. Adult education, largely funded by federal sources is usually free or low-cost and serves students at all basic skill levels. Developmental Education is a form of basic skills education that is tuition-based, funded by state or institutional dollars, and most often serves students whose skills are just below college-ready. There is significant overlap in the populations these two programs serve, and many states are finding new ways to more efficiently serve students who could enroll in either system. Increasingly, developmental education is taking lessons from the successful instructional models that have emerged in adult education.  

Nowhere is this trend more evident than in Illinois, where colleges are adopting the adult education “bridge program” model to serve similarly-skilled students in developmental education. In these programs, students are provided basic skills or English language services that are closely linked with their occupational skills training courses. Pairing these courses can provide students who are just below college-ready the extra support they need to succeed in college-level courses. In Illinois, these programs also include support services for family- or work-challenges so students can stay in school and graduate. The best of these programs are developed in partnership with local employers who provide paid internships, assistance with curriculum development, and jobs for program graduates.

Testimonials from two students in the John Deere Agricultural Technology program demonstrate how popular and successful developmental education bridges can be.  

James Schoonover, Lake Land College
After working in a local John Deere dealership, James decided to enroll in the John Deere Agricultural Technology program at nearby Lake Land College. The two-year program is intended to help underprepared students boost their academic skills while receiving training in agricultural technology. It does this by providing a short-term, intensive basic skills course before the start of the academic year that provides each student with the academic background they need to successfully complete college-level occupational courses. For James, this program structure gave him the skills and confidence he needed to succeed in college. He says, “If you had asked me [before] if I was going to go to college, I wouldn’t have known. I realize now that I needed to get an education and start achieving things.” Read James’s testimonial >>

Chad Blaney, Lake Land College
Seeking a program that provided real-life, practical skills, Chad found and enrolled in the John Deere program at Lake Land College. He finds that he enjoys class because the academic materials aren’t traditional math and reading exercises—rather, they are contextualized to agricultural technology and, in some cases, even use actual John Deere company manuals to practice their basic skills. “The classes are a lot of fun. They’re really technical and hands on, which is how I like to learn,” Chad said. “I’m not an auditory learner. The thing about this reading class, it’s all tied in with the Deere program which is all stuff I’m real interested in.” Read Chad’s testimonial >>

Read more student testimonials from Illinois and other states in the Shifting Gears initiative >>

For more information on developmental education bridge programs and other types of bridge programs, read Farther Faster: Six Promising Programs Show How Career Pathway Bridges Help Basic Skills Students Earn Credentials That Matter.


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