Evaluation of the Accelerating Opportunity Initiative

Launched in 2011, the Accelerating Opportunity, or AO, initiative aims to help students who have low basic skills earn valued occupational credentials, obtain well-paying jobs, and sustain rewarding careers. The initiative focuses on students who are interested in earning technical credentials and whose math, reading, writing, or English language skills are between the 6th- and 12th-grade levels. In particular, AO is designed for adult education students who lack high school diplomas or the equivalent.

AO encourages states to change the delivery of adult education for these students by allowing community and technical colleges to enroll them in for-credit career and technical education (CTE) courses while they earn their high school credentials, improve their basic academic skills, or build their English language abilities. The CTE programs in which students enroll are structured as credit-bearing college and career pathways with enhanced support services. Each pathway must incorporate integrated instruction, which combines basic skills and technical training that is contextualized for the occupation targeted.

The AO approach not only makes CTE courses accessible for students with low basic skills but also intends to enhance the quality of instruction by having an adult education instructor “team-teach” with the CTE instructor. AO is also designed to change how states and colleges coordinate with government, business, and community partners. It reforms policy and practice to make it easier for students with low basic skills to access and succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce.

The Evaluation

The evaluation effort focuses on AO programs in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. The AO evaluation, led by the Urban Institute and its partners, the Aspen Institute and George Washington University, is a comprehensive assessment of the AO initiative that aims to produce valuable evidence for the field and to inform public policy on new approaches to serving the education and workforce needs of adults with low basic skills. The evaluation consists of three major components:

  • Implementation study: A qualitative study of how AO integrated pathways were undertaken by the states and colleges, scaled, and potentially sustained and an analysis of how well the states and colleges implemented the AO model.
  • Impact study: A quasi-experimental analysis designed to measure the effectiveness of the AO model based on its impact on the educational and labor market outcomes of AO participants, comparing them with similar students who did not participate in AO.
  • Cost-benefit analysis: A comparison of the costs and benefits for states, colleges, and students engaged in the AO initiative.

AO Management and Funding

Jobs for the Future manages the AO initiative in partnership with the National College Transition Network, the National Council for Workforce Education, and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. A consortium of foundations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Arthur Blank Foundation, the Woodruff Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the University of Phoenix Foundation, have provided funding for the AO initiative.

Research

Beginning in 2012, the Accelerating Opportunity (AO) initiative provided $1.6 million in grants to five states. The grants were to help community colleges create career pathway programs to enroll students with low basic skills into for-credit career and technical education courses to improve their educational and employment outcomes. A rigorous and comprehensive evaluation of AO includes a non-experimental impact study, an implementation study, and a cost-benefit analysis. This first report provides key findings on the pathways, students, resources, partnerships, culture shifts, and policy developments from the first year of implementation of the initiative.

The First Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges

The second annual implementation report for the Accelerating Opportunity (AO) initiative in four states finds that:

  • colleges aligned pathways and supports with local needs
  • students were satisfied with AO
  • AO instructors grew more adept at team teaching
  • colleges struggled to recruit adult education students
  • states and colleges sought new financial support and developed partnerships
  • colleges served more students with fewer resources
  • states changed policies to support and sustain AO

AO provides grants to help community colleges create career pathway programs to enroll students with low basic skills into for-credit career and technical education courses to improve educational and employment outcomes.

The Second Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges

This report presents findings from a survey of students enrolled in Accelerating Opportunity (AO) career pathways in spring 2014. AO provides grants to help community colleges create career pathway programs to enroll students with low basic skills into for-credit career and technical education courses to improve educational and employment outcomes. Survey respondents tended to be non-traditional students; nearly two-thirds were 25 or older and more than half had dependent children. Student reported higher levels of education than initially targeted by the program, with nearly 90 percent reporting at least a secondary school credential. Generally, students expressed high satisfaction with AO.

Accelerating Opportunity: A Portrait of Students and Their Program Experiences from the 2014 Student Survey

Accelerating Opportunity (AO) combined integrated career pathways at two-year colleges with team teaching, acceleration strategies, supportive services, and policy changes. It aimed to help low-skilled adults earn occupational credentials, obtain well-paying jobs, and sustain rewarding careers. This final implementation report documents activities and outcomes for AO states and colleges in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Ingredients for successful implementation included receiving state leadership support, remedying policy barriers, considering college institutional factors, investing in team teaching, utilizing partnerships within and outside the colleges, and providing student supports.

Implementation of Accelerating Opportunity: Final Implementation Findings with Lessons from the Field