In Minnesota, Integrated Basic Skills Program Spells Success for Adult Students

Dec 09, 2010

by Marcie Foster

A new program in Minnesota is helping students with barriers to success earn a credential in an in-demand regional industry. The FastTRAC program is just one example of state-wide efforts happening across the country to create educational opportunities that work for adults with low basic skills or low English proficiency – a large but often overlooked group.

At least 30 million Americans have low basic skills that make it hard for them to support themselves or their families. Other factors—such as being low-income and having work and family responsibilities—also make it harder for these adults to upgrade their skills and get a better job to support their families. State initiatives to improve access to education that meet these students’ needs are important to creating a healthy and successful workforce.  

The FastTRAC partnership team and the Minnesota Governor’s Workforce Development Council have set a goal that, within three years, there will be one or more FastTRAC programs at each of the 25 Minnesota State College campuses. They have started by developing several pilot programs, including competitive grants this fall to 10 new local partnerships that will offer two specific FastTRAC program models: upper level “bridge” programs for higher level adult education students and integrated adult education courses with technical education. The FastTRAC partnership is also exploring strategically using federal resources to significantly expand this model across the state. 

This program’s success can be found in stories from two recent graduates who have shared how FastTRAC helped prepare them for jobs in the health care industry:

Antoinette McCarthy, Inver Hills Community College
 In the suburbs of St. Paul, Minn., Ms. McCarthy enrolled in a program that helps low income parents, most of whom lack a high school diploma or GED , become Certified Nursing Assistants and Home Health Aides using team-taught basic skills and technical education. In addition to a technical certificate, students earn college credit and gain work experience through a 24-week long term care clinical placement (half of which is paid on-the-job training). “There was a point in my life I didn’t know what direction to go and there weren’t many resources for me. Now I have everything I need to be successful,” she says. Read Antoinette’s testimonial >>

Tong Vu, Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning
Nearby, the St. Paul public school system has 12 FastTRAC programs that are run through the Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning, primarily to help basic skills students and English-language learners gain the technical skills they needed to obtain a family-supporting job in the region. She says, “Because I got the help I needed to learn English, now I can look for work and help my family.” The program Ms. Vu enrolled in at the Hubbs Center, an ESL/Medical Coding course, utilizes an innovative strategy called “blended content” in which basic skills teachers work alongside technical skills instructors to provide the student with an integrated learning experience. Read Tong’s testimonial >>

For more information on state efforts to create skills-building educational opportunities, check out the Shifting Gears initiative. To see a FastTRAC program in action, view the Minnesota FastTRAC video:

About Shifting Gears:

The Shifting Gears initiative is a state policy change initiative in six Midwest states: Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. CLASP is the primary technical assistance provider and manager for the initiative, which is supported by the Joyce Foundation. These student testimonials were written by Douglas Gould + Company, our Shifting Gears partner for strategic communications. For more information, visit

site by Trilogy Interactive