The Breaking Through Practice Guide

 This guide is a compilation of practices developed and implemented by community colleges involved in the Breaking Through initiative from 2005 through 2008.

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National Council for Workforce Education
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National Council for Workforce Education
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 This guide is a compilation of practices developed and implemented by community colleges involved in the Breaking Through initiative from 2005 through 2008. The tools in this guide are designed for use by practitioners to connect adults who have low-level math and/or reading skills with postsecondary credentials leading to employment offering family sustaining wages. The four components of the guide are based on the strategies in the 2004 report, Breaking Through: Helping Low-Skilled Adults Enter and Succeed in College and Careers (Leibowitz & Taylor 2004): accelerated learning, comprehensive support services, labor market payoffs, and aligning programs for low-skilled adults.  These components can be used individually or as a set to help achieve the goal of obtaining certificates or degrees to qualify for better wages. Of interest is the inclusion of the contextualization toolkit. This toolkit can assist practitioners to use career materials within the classroom. This guide examines the practices at participating community colleges to better serve the low-skilled learner. The successes and challenges are discussed by the various community colleges. The strategies used are detailed and the results are measured in each section of the guide.  This is an ongoing study and there will be formal evaluations in the future.

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What the experts say

This resource is the 2010 companion piece to the earlier research document that details the Breaking Through study.  This Practice Guide translates the insights from the research into lessons learned for adult educators especially those in community colleges.

The guide may be used for strategic planning, in-service workshops, building external partnerships, etc.  This valuable resource is a “must read” for all who are concerned about the dismal transition rates of students from adult basic education/GED into college, especially now that postsecondary education has become almost mandatory in the workplace.

The format enables the reader to see how each of the components or “high leverage strategies” identified in the Breaking Through research can be implemented.  A specific Table of Contents for each section provides page numbers within the section.  Following a research summary of related studies in the introduction of each section, vignettes of the strategy as implemented in various community colleges are presented along with Tips (key points set aside in the margin).  At the conclusion of each section a case study of one college is presented to show how the strategy may be “scaled up” or broadly implemented.  References follow each section of the resource.  Supplemental Materials at the end of the resource provide profiles of the colleges, definitions of terms, information on certificates, and other brochures and worksheets.

The evaluation studies that were conducted by certain colleges on particular strategies (e.g., accelerated learning group vs. comparison group following current practice) produced impressive results.  Further studies are ongoing so more results from implementing the strategies will be forthcoming.

The Aligning Programs for Low-Skilled Adults section is very useful to the field of adult education. A historical perspective of adult education explains the barriers to integration. Adult educators need to think beyond the traditional belief of the GED being the goal and explicitly create programs that support transition to college. For example, GED students may have the foundation skills but a traditional adult education program does not include formal research and writing research papers; both of which are essential college skills.

The Contextualization Toolkit may be used by adult educators in any type of program.  Based on the concept of functional context education, contextualization means that basic skills instruction is offered in the context of the work content.  The implication for adult education and workforce development program instructors is that they closely coordinate so that basic skills instruction is immediately applied rather than presented in a separate prior course.

Noteworthy also is the recommendation of establishing certificates for mastering chunks of learning materials. The certificates document specific accomplishments not only for the student but also for employers and other external agencies.  Some students are actually able to use the certificates to obtain jobs before completing the full program of study.  Importantly, instead of the “all or nothing” mentality of a college degree program, learning becomes modular with documentation for each step of the program.  A similar process could be used in pre-college adult education and workforce development programs to encourage persistence. 

The resource also discusses how GED programs and community colleges can work together to increase successful transitions and to eliminate the need for developmental learning courses at the college level.  The resource has a wealth of other ideas that are relevant to adult educators regardless of program location.

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