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 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.
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.
This final impact report describes the effect of Accelerating Opportunity (AO) on education and employment outcomes for underprepared adult learners. Designed and led by Jobs for the Future and national partners, AO allowed adults with low basic skills to enroll in integrated career pathways at community and technical colleges. The quasi-experimental impact analysis shows that AO students earned more credentials while taking fewer credits, suggesting more efficient course-taking and accelerated learning. These achievements did not translate into labor market gains in the observed timeframe for all students, though AO had strong and sustained positive earnings impacts for some student subgroups.