Career Pathways Programming for Adult Learners in Chicago, Houston, and Miami: Final Report

This report presents findings from a research project that examines how adult education providers in three cities designed and implemented career pathways programming for adults who are immigrants or have barriers to employment and education.

Esther Prins
Carol Clymer
Sheri Suarez Foreman
Martin Loa
Mark Needle
Becky Raymond
Blaire Wilson Toso
Alex Ziskind
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy, Pennsylvania State University
Houston Center for Literacy
Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This research project examined how adult education providers in Chicago, Houston, and Miami designed and implemented career pathways programming, especially for adults who are immigrants or have barriers to employment and education. The project consisted of three research phases: (1) a survey of all known adult basic education providers (ABE) in the three cities, (2) focus groups with adult education providers in those cities, and (3) case studies of six programs (two per city). The authors offer the following implications based on the findings.

  • Multiple entry points are needed so that adults with skills gaps and lower levels of education can enroll in career pathways classes. Providers should consider what entry requirements are needed for students to understand the course material, complete the program, and prepare for postsecondary education or employment. Similarly, programs should track how entry-level students are advancing through the course sequence, from ESL, ABE, or GED® classes to occupational or career and technical education (CTE) classes.
  • Programs should ensure that counselors, coaches, case workers, and other support staff have manageable caseloads. Funders and policy makers should consider increasing the funding for support services that address students’ non-academic concerns. These supports should help increase persistence and program completion.
  • For careeer pathways to be effective, organizations need measures that capture interim outcomes toward longer-term goals such as completing a degree or obtaining a job. Interim outcomes are especially important for showing the achievements of students with greater barriers to education or employment. Policymakers and funders should support the development and use of interim outcome measures.
  • To minimize problems such as gaps in services, duplication, and competition for students, funders and policy makers should support the creation of groups, events, or initiatives that help career pathways providers coordinate their efforts. Funders and policy makers can play a key role in helping workforce and adult education entities collaborate in providing career pathways programs.

Future research questions are also presented.

What the experts say

This research provides critical insights into ways that community literacy providers, adult schools, community colleges, skill trainers, workforce development, and human service providers can find their place in developing a career pathway system that is responsive to all adult learners. Adult education programs will find the report useful in developing comprehensive strategic plans and operational pathways for individuals with barriers to employment.

Providers will find a wealth of information about the challenges ABE providers face when adding career pathways to their offerings and promising responses. For example, supportive services are a core element of career pathways but often are not part of the adult education mix of services. The IES research identified two models – bundled and voluntary. They found two national bundled models, the Center for Working Families, and the Financial Opportunity Center. Both bundled models require participation in two or more integrated support services, including financial coaching, employment coaching, and/or access to income supports. Voluntary models, on the other hand, give students access to one or more services, but participation is voluntary, and rarely offer financial literacy or counseling.

Another example is access for lower-skilled students and students with barriers to employment. The IES survey data showed that there are minimum test score, language, or other entry requirements for more than one-half of all the career pathways services or classes in their research. The case studies confirm that overall, lower-level students had less access to career pathways programs. The researchers did identify some promising models for addressing these barriers for lower-skilled students. For example, a Miami-based provider, Lindsey Hopkins Technical College, had, “per Florida state policy, an exit requirement for all but one of its CTE courses. This model enabled lower-level students to enroll and then demonstrate their academic or practice-based competence – a minimum TABE score or industry certifications, respectively – upon program completion.”

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