Moving Beyond the GED: Low-Skilled Adult Transition to Occupational Pathways at Community Colleges Leading to Family-Supporting Careers (Research Synthesis)

This review of research is part of a larger project which identified exemplary community college programs that employ innovative curriculum and instructional practices in order to help low-skilled adults attain a family sustainable wage.

Ernst, S.
Kim, E.
Park, R.
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
University of Minnesota & University of Champaign-Urbana
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

The project goal was to identify best practices that are replicable at other community colleges. These programs and models combine Adult Basic Education (ABE), General Educational Diploma (GED), and sometimes English as a Sec¬ond Language (ESL) programs with the opportunity to attain postsecondary credentials leading to gainful employment at a family sustainable wage. The project involved three universities and was part the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) funded by the Office of Adult and Vocational Education, U.S. Department of Education. This review of the research was a first step in that project and summarizes what is currently known about low-skilled adults and programs for them.

Two-year community and technical colleges are often the gateway to postsecondary education for low-skilled adult students. The broader study of which this literature review is a part focuses on the role of the community colleges in providing education- specifically, occupational training. Community colleges are often charged with the task of making up the skills gap needed for success in postsecondary education and job training. An estimated 40% of students entering community college have to take at least one remedial course; in urban areas, that percentage can rise to 75% (Parsad & Lewis, 2003). However, much of the research on community colleges is not reported in the traditional adult literacy journals and reports; rather, it is published in state reports that have to be retrieved state-by-state. For example, Minnesota compiles reports on recent high school graduates who took developmental and remedial courses at community colleges (Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, 2002, 2005). Much of the research on low-skilled adults who attend community colleges is published in journals specifically devoted to developmental education. The Center for Research on Developmental Education and Urban Literacy at the University of Minnesota ( has compiled a large quantity of studies on underprepared students who take developmental or remedial classes in postsecondary institutions. However, this research is rarely referenced in journals devoted to adult basic education. The study attempts to bring information from all these sources as background to the study of low-skilled adults who seek ABE, GED, or ESL as a first step to occupational pathways.

Benefits and Uses

The results of the research brief are important for program administrators. The recorded results and descriptions can be used as models for best practices in building more effective programs to benefit adult learners.

A podcast of a discussion with author, Dr. Rosemarie Park, looks at a major question among economists and educators today: does the GED provide for transition to community college programs, leading to careers that will support families? The podcast is available online:

This resource was reviewed and vetted through the Policy to Performance: Transitioning Adults to Opportunity initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education under Contract No. ED-04-CO-0051/0007.

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