Presents estimates and examines the impact of the Accelerating Opportunity initiative, an integrated career pathway program with stackable industry-recognized credentials at community and technical colleges, related to education and employment outcomes for underprepared students and adults without high school credentials in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana between 2012 and 2014.

“For most workers, a high school diploma or credential is not sufficient to succeed in the modern economy….Moreover, even adults who have high school credentials frequently come to college underprepared, with below-college-level skills” (p.VI).

From 2012 to 2014, “the Accelerating Opportunity (AO) initiative…[gave] underprepared students and adults without high school credentials an opportunity to enroll in integrated career pathway programs at community and technical colleges. AO was based on Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) model and lessons from the Breaking Through initiative. AO allowed students scoring in the 6th- through 12th-grade National Reporting System (NRS) educational functioning levels to enter career and technical education (CTE) courses concurrently with high school equivalency (HSE) completion programs through adult education or other skill-building courses.

The pathways offered…paths to multiple stackable, industry-recognized credentials within about 12 credit hours. To promote students’ postsecondary success, colleges…provided team teaching in at least 25 percent of their classes, where a CTE instructor worked alongside an adult education instructor in the classroom, as well as contextualized instruction, accelerated learning, supportive navigation services, and connections with employers and workforce agencies to help students complete their coursework and transition from AO pathways to the workforce” (p. VI).

The authors “led a rigorous evaluation of AO in four states to inform policymakers and practitioners on the model’s potential to improve postsecondary education and employment outcomes for adults with low basic skills” (p. VI).

“This…report…presents estimates of how AO career pathway programs affected the educational and employment outcomes of participants in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. The impact analysis examined four key educational outcomes of AO: the number of credits earned, earning at least 12 academic credits, earning any credential offered by a community college, and the number of credentials earned.

The analysis also estimated…the probability of being employed after enrollment…and the quarterly earnings of AO participants. These outcomes reflect…AO’s theory of change: to improve the educational and employment trajectories of underprepared adult learners and thereby increase their employment and earnings…” (p.VI-VII).

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

“Based on survey data,…colleges counted a total of 8,287 students enrolled in AO in the four states in the first three years of the initiative….The survey results indicated that AO students enrolled in 154 integrated career pathways, primarily in health care and manufacturing” (p. VII). “One key outcome…was that AO participants earn an aggregate of 3,600 occupational credentials through AO pathways. AO had a positive impact on the number of college-awarded credentials earned by almost all students. In most cases, AO students earned more credentials while taking fewer credits, possibly indicating more efficient course-taking and accelerated learning” (p. VIII). “The positive outcomes for credential attainment are notable, though they did not always translate into labor market gains in the observed timeframe. AO had strong and sustained positive impacts on earnings for two subgroups: AO students recruited from adult education in Kentucky and AO students recruited from CTE in Kansas. Adult education students from Illinois, Kansas, and Louisiana and developmental education students from Kentucky did not achieve positive, statistically significant, or enduring gains in earnings during the follow-up period” (p.IX). “AO is a promising approach to help low-skilled adults attain more credentials, potentially more quickly than they would otherwise. But AO alone may be insufficient for generating consistent, positive effects on earnings….The evaluation’s implementation research…indicates that strengthening linkages with employers may be a critical component that was not fully developed in the early implementation period. In addition, further development of the model to improve labor-market outcomes might focus on helping students advance their careers beyond the jobs associated with entry-level credentials” (p.XIII). “Following more cohorts for more time would make it easier to disentangle the effects” (p.63). (Abstractor: Author)