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Obama Jobs Plan Supports Promising Models to Help Low-Skilled Adults Earn Postsecondary Credentials

Sep 09, 2011

By Marcie W.M. Foster

While all workers across the country have experienced near-record levels of unemployment, low-income, low-skilled workers have been hit the hardest. Education remains one of the most significant factors in getting a good job and advancing in the workforce. For workers without a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is 14.3 percent. For their higher-educated peers with a bachelor's degree or more, unemployment is only 4.3 percent.

To address this disparity, President Obama's American Jobs Act establishes a $5 billion Pathways Back to Work Fund, which includes support for "integrated education and training"- a promising instructional model that many states and local areas are already using to help adult education students earn meaningful postsecondary credentials.

Integrated education and training models differ from the traditional sequential model of adult education in which students are required to master basic math, reading, or English language skills before advancing into postsecondary education or training.  Instead, integrated education and training models use a team-teaching method to combine basic skills or English language instruction directly with credit-bearing postsecondary education or training. These courses are jointly taught by adult education and occupational skills instructors and provide a robust set of supportive services to prevent students from having to drop out due to work or family obligations. To ensure students are earning marketable skills and credentials, integrated education and training programs are developed in partnership with local employers or industry. These partnerships provide students with work experience in their chosen field and even facilitate job placement for students who complete the program.

The largest and most successful of these programs is Washington State's I-BEST, a statewide program at all of Washington's 34 community and technical colleges. A 2010 study found that I-BEST students are 56 percent more likely than regular adult education students to earn college credit and 26 percent more likely to earn a certificate or degree. Successful models have also emerged on the state level through the Shifting Gears initiative-a multi-year effort to re-engineer adult education in five Midwestern states to support economic growth and expand job opportunities for low-skilled workers. Through this initiative, states such as Wisconsin and Minnesota have developed integrated education and training programs in growing fields like healthcare and advanced manufacturing.

President Obama's inclusion of integrated education and training in the American Jobs Act recognizes the importance of this vehicle for creating economic opportunity for the millions of low-skilled workers needing improved skills to go back to work or find a new career. CLASP supports this important move to help a critical portion of the workforce access the supports they need to succeed in education and job training.

For more information on successful integrated education and training models, read Farther Faster: Six Promising Programs Show How Career Pathway Bridges Help Basic Skills Students Earn Credentials That Matter.

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