Accelerating Opportunity: Transforming Adult Education at Georgia's Technical Colleges

July 3, 2013

By Josh Delaney

The Adult Education Division of The Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) has been awarded $1,250,000 to implement Accelerating Opportunity (AO), a national initiative designed to transform Georgia’s adult education program into successful pathways leading to economic security for workers in today’s demanding job market.  Georgia is one of eleven states awarded grants from Jobs for the Future with the goal of becoming a national leader in adult education innovation. The Atlanta-based Woodruff Foundation also funded part of Georgia’s award.

First introduced in Washington State as I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training), the initiative provides students returning to school to obtain their GED® at one of Georgia’s technical colleges the opportunity to earn postsecondary credentials in high-demand occupations through dual enrollment. This education update provides an overview of the program, early outcomes, and TCSG’s plans for expansion and sustainability.

Nationally, Jobs for the Future partnered with the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges,  the National Council for Workforce Education, and the National College Transition Network to create Accelerating Opportunity. The program is funded by a collaboration of diverse philanthropies.[1] Currently, it engages over 18,000 participants at nearly 40 community colleges in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia.
The Need for Accelerating Opportunity

Adult Basic Education (ABE) provides educational opportunities for adults who have not completed a high school education. Nearly 1.2 million Georgia adults lack a high school diploma or GED. As such, they cannot pursue postsecondary educational opportunities that are critical for today’s job market. One way students who drop out of high school can earn a GED is through Adult Basic Education (ABE) at a local technical college. However, few students who earn a GED successfully transition into an accredited postsecondary program and earn a degree or certification.

Recognizing this need, TCSG applied for the three-year Accelerating Opportunity grant. The grant design team included representatives from the TCSG Technical Education Division, TCSG College leadership and faculty, Georgia Department of Labor, Local Workforce Investments Boards, TCSG College Business Advisory Committees, and relevant employers/employer associations. When Georgia was awarded the grant, it joined a national learning network of Accelerating Opportunity states seeking to transform ABE.

2010 Georgia Statistics [2]
  • 16% (984,740 adults) of Georgia’s adults lack a high school diploma or GED.
  • 5.9% (618,820 residents) of Georgians have less than a 9th grade education.
  • 469,316 of Georgians in the labor force are currently unemployed.
  • 89% of children whose parents do not have a high school degree in Georgia live in low-income families.
  • 55% of Georgia’s inmates (the fifth highest inmate population in the country) do not have a high school diploma/GED.
Structure

In traditional ABE programs, students must earn a GED before enrolling in courses that lead to a degree or certificate. AO pairs ABE instruction with technical instruction in the classroom, allowing students to advance both their basic and professional/technical skills simultaneously. The collaboratively taught classes integrate basic skills with practical, occupational training that build toward degrees and/or certificates. As a requirement of the program, students are also provided support services that are typically an obstacle to success for adult education students, such as tutoring, transportation, financial aid, and childcare.

“The core belief of Accelerating Opportunity is that postsecondary credentials are the gateway to family-supporting wages—and that those credentials are critical to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty in America. This exciting initiative represents an unprecedented investment in low-skilled adult learners with a goal of yielding unprecedented results which transform the Adult Basic Education system.” – Accelerating Opportunity National Website
Career Pathways that Meet Regional Demand

In addition to providing accelerated ABE, TCSG collaborates with the Georgia Department of Labor, regional advisory boards and local industries to align each community college’s technical/professional certifications with the industry needs in the surrounding region. This targeted programming increases students’ ability to find employment once credentialed while also meeting industry demand.

Career pathways selected as a part of the AO program must be vetted with local industries to ensure they meet community needs and pay at least $14.00 per hour. These fields include Early Childhood Education, Welding and Joining Technology, Business Administrative Technology, Commercial Refrigeration, and Entry Level Accounting.

Early Implementation

The initial pilot at Middle Georgia Technical College began during the 2012-13 academic year with programs in Criminal Justice, Business Administrative Technology (Medical Concentration), Early Childhood Care, and Welding. To date, 73 students have enrolled in the program, and 57 of them have earned their GED. The remaining students are still working toward their GED. The program also has awarded 73 certificates to participants. The table below provides participant demographics.

Middle Georgia Technical College Pilot
Demographics 2012-2013
73 students
Race
Gender

Age Range

In addition to providing positive initial results, the pilot also provided important lessons for TCSG as it pursues broader implementation across the state. In May 2013, TCSG began its expansion of Accelerating Opportunity by launching a Business Administrative Technology track with medical concentration at Gwinnett Technical College. Over the next year, TCSG plans to roll out Accelerating Opportunity to the following colleges:

Accelerating Opportunity Expansion Sites
Summer or Fall 2013
Spring 2014
  • Savannah Technical College
  • Albany Technical College
  • Atlanta Technical College
  • Georgia Piedmont College
  • Lanier Technical College
  • Athens Technical College
Sustainability

Adult Education classes are currently free for all Georgia citizens; however, AO students must pay tuition for dual enrollment college credits. Under current law, a student must have his or her GED/high school diploma to be eligible to receive HOPE or Pell Grant. This rule prevents dually enrolled students from taking advantage of many grant opportunities until they have earned their GED. As such, TCSG is working to identify private funds to support students who cannot afford tuition.

As the three-year grant winds down, TCSG also must find sustainable funding to support the additional faculty needed to teach these collaborative courses and full-time staff positions to oversee the program.  Already, it has secured a $600,000 grant from Georgia’s Woodruff Foundation and a generous book stipend from AT&T to support students in Accelerating Opportunity.

Looking Ahead

Accelerating Opportunity is an innovative approach to adult education that merges basic skill attainment with educational pathways to higher skills, credentials, and employment. While more rigorous evaluation of the program’s outcomes is needed, early results indicate that the program could significantly increases the number of Georgia adults with GEDs and postsecondary credentials. Accelerating Opportunity moves the state forward in accomplishing the Georgia Office of Adult Education’s mission statement of “creating a workforce for Georgia and a future for families.”

Today’s jobs require workers with higher skill sets and more postsecondary education.  A basic education is no longer sufficient to ensure a good job and a long career. This grant will help Georgia provide more of our adult learners with better pathways to a college education and improved opportunities for skilled jobs in the state’s workforce.”  - TCSG Commissioner Ron Jackson

For more information about Georgia’s Accelerating Opportunity Program contact:

Beverly E. Smith, TCSG Assistant Commissioner for Adult Education at 404-679-1642 or besmith@tcsg.edu

Carla R. DeBose, TCSG Director Adult Education Professional Development & Transition Resources at 404-679-5257 or cdebose@tcsg.edu

 

[1] These foundations include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation.

[2] Data pulled from the US Census Bureau.

[3] TCSG will be simultaneously implementing Accelerating Connections to Employment (ACE) and the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT), which are other versions of Accelerating Opportunity tied to supplementary grants.