Integrating Basic Skills Instruction with Occupational Training Can Improve Postsecondary Outcomes for Low-Skilled Adults

Oct 21, 2010

This originally appeared as a guest post in the Ohio Workforce Coalition blog.

by Marcie Foster and Julie Strawn

An increasing number of new and replacement jobs in the U.S. will require workers to have at least some postsecondary education. Economists report that 63 percent of the jobs available in 2018 will be reserved only for those workers with a postsecondary credential.

Yet 32 million adults still do not have a high school diploma and 42 percent of students over age 20 require remedial math or English before they can even enroll in postsecondary courses. Our future economic competitiveness depends on upgrading the skills of these lower-skilled adults and preparing them for high-wage employment.

To accomplish this goal of educating lower-skilled adult workers, many states are pursuing basic skills education reforms intended to accelerate the speed with which these adults can obtain a marketable postsecondary credential and transition into the labor market. One particular reform, often referred to as integrated education and training (IET), allows for simultaneous teaching of basic skills content (drawn from adult basic education,  developmental education, or both) and occupational skills training. This type of instruction allows students who would ordinarily be “stuck” in non-credit basic skills coursework for many years to accelerate their individual program of study and move faster into postsecondary education and careers.

And it’s effective. A 2009 study found that students enrolled in Washington State’s I-BEST program (the state’s name for integrated education and training) were more 40 percent more likely to earn an occupational certificate, 23 percent more likely to earn college credit and generally more likely to increase their basic skills than non-I-BEST students over the same time period. Furthermore, faculty members from I-BEST have also reported that, over time, this method of instruction became preferable to them. They enjoyed the team teaching approach, felt the students were more interested and engaged in the content, and saw positive effects from the typically small class size and “cohort effect.”

Some states are using funding incentives to encourage this type of reform state-wide. Washington State, the birthplace of system-level integrated basic education and training, incentivizes institutions to use this model by providing 1.75 FTE reimbursement for each student in their I-BEST program. This higher reimbursement rate reflects the higher cost of delivering integrated programs using a team teaching approach. Similarly, programs that integrate developmental education with occupational training in Illinois will qualify for a higher reimbursement than regular developmental education because they are more expensive to operate.  Wisconsin and Minnesota—who, like Illinois, participate in the Joyce Foundation’s  Shifting Gears initiative—are also encouraging statewide adoption of integrated basic education and training approaches, primarily through discretionary grants and professional development. All four of these states require that funded programs meet structured guidelines, including that the program leads to a certificate or degree or that it is part of a career pathway.

See the Washington State I-BEST program in action.

Learn more about Wisconsin RISE, Illinois Shifting Gears and Minnesota FastTRAC on the Shifting Gears website.

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