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EDUCATION AND TRAINING 



Accelerating Opportunity 

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

Shayne Spaulding Ananda M artin-Caughey 

March 2015 


URBAN 


NSTITUTE ■ ELEVATE • THE - DEBATE 


URBAN 


ABOUT THE URBAN INSTITUTE 

The nonprofit Urban Institute is dedicated to elevating the debate on social and economic policy. For nearly five 
decades, Urban scholars have conducted research and offered evidence-based solutions that improve lives and 
strengthen communities across a rapidly urbanizing world. Their objective research helps expand opportunities for 
all, reduce hardship among the most vulnerable, and strengthen the effectiveness of the public sector. 


Copyright © March 2015. Urban Institute. Permission is granted for reproduction of this file, with attribution to the 
Urban Institute. 


Contents 


Highlights from the 2014 Accelerating Opportunity Student Survey iv 

Introduction 1 

The Accelerating Opportunity Evaluation 3 

About This Report 3 

Interpreting the Survey Results 4 

State Context 6 

Who Are Accelerating Opportunity Students? 7 

Basic Demographics 7 

Family and Household Composition 9 

Work and Income 11 

Government Assistance 11 

Education and Educational Aspirations 12 

Why Do Students Choose to Enroll in AO? 15 

What Instruction and Academic Support Did Students Receive? 17 

Delivery of Instruction and Learning 17 

Exposure to Employers 19 

Course Content 20 

Integrated Instruction through Team Teaching 21 

Tutoring 22 

What Other Support Did Students Receive? 22 

How Much Financial Assistance Did Students Receive? 25 

How Satisfied Were Students with AO? 28 

Conclusion 31 

Notes 34 

References 36 


Statement of Independence 


37 


Highlights from the 2014 Accelerating Opportunity 
Student Survey 

■ Students expressed high levels of satisfaction with the program. Almost 90 percent of students 
felt the program prepared them adequately or very well for work in their field of training or for 
further education. Close to half of students said the program exceeded their expectations, and an 
additional 47 percent said the program met their expectations. 

Accelerating Opportunity (AO) served nontraditional students. Nearly two-thirds of survey 
respondents were age 25 or older. More than half of survey respondents had dependent children, 
and almost a quarter were single parents. In addition, more than half of respondents were working 
while enrolled in AO, mostly in low-paying jobs for more than 30 hours a week. Finally, almost half 
of survey respondents were receiving government assistance aside from student financial aid, such 
as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits. 

■ Despite the initial focus on serving individuals who lacked high school credentials, most survey 
respondents had a high school degree or its equivalent. Nearly 90 percent of students surveyed 
had obtained a high school credential. Although this may have been because of changes in Pell 
policy that limited receipt to those with such credentials, only 35 percent reported receiving Pell 
grant assistance for AO. 

■ Students reported that their classes focused more on job-related skills than on basic skills. About 
64 percent of students reported spending time on content related to building knowledge and skills 
for a job, compared with 52 percent who said coursework included instruction to improve their 
reading, writing, and/or math skills. Reflecting the job skills focus, programs often included some 
form of hands-on learning, and 60 percent of students reported some form of employer exposure 
through training at a job site, class visits, or meetings. Although basic skills content was supposed to 
be delivered through integrated instruction, where an adult education and a content instructor 
teach the material together in the same classroom, more than a quarter of students did not report 
ever being in a team-taught class. Still, most students experienced team teaching frequently. Less 
than half of the respondents received tutoring. Students widely expressed the desire for more team 
teaching and tutoring. 

■ Although most students reported receiving financial or nonfinancial support while in the 
program, a majority had to pay for some part of the program, and counseling focused on academic 
and employment issues. Almost three-quarters of respondents received some type of advising 
from staff members, primarily related to academic issues and job issues. Very few students received 
financial or personal advising or assistance with child care, transportation, and emergencies. Sixty- 
eight percent of students surveyed had to pay for some part of the program, such as uniforms, 
books, tuition, or other fees. 


IV 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



Introduction 


In 2011, Accelerating Opportunity (AO) was launched to increase the capabilities of adults with low 
basic skills so they qualify for well-paying jobs and rewarding careers. AO focuses on accelerating 
access to community college occupational credentials among students with low academic skills who 
otherwise would languish in adult basic education or development education courses and who often fail 
to complete, or even enroll in, degree and certificate programs. 1 

Across the nation, too many students leave high school without the skills necessary to succeed in 
college and the workplace. By one estimate, approximately 59 percent of first-time community college 
students are referred to developmental math courses and 33 percent are referred to developmental 
reading upon enrollment (Bailey, Jeong, and Cho 2010). The need for developmental education reflects 
the low basic skills of many Americans, with nearly one in three adults displaying low levels of numeracy 
and one in six showing low levels of literacy (OECD 2013). Whereas some with low basic skills are 
among the 12 percent of adults who lack a high school diploma or its equivalent, 2 many have earned a 
high school credential but lack the skills necessary to succeed in college and careers, increasing their 
risk of unemployment, low wages, and poverty (OECD 2013). Adults who fail to complete high school 
may seek to improve their career prospects by enrolling in General Education Development (GED) or 
other high school equivalency programs; however, education and labor market outcomes for those who 
pass the GED are generally no better than for those without a high school credential (Heckman and 
Kautz 2014). A key issue is the lack of connection between GED programs and postsecondary education 
or the skills needed in the labor market. For those who enroll in community colleges, developmental 
education programs often serve as a barrier to further educational progress, because students either 
get stuck there or get discouraged and drop out (Bailey and Cho 2010). Only about 20 percent of first- 
time students at public community colleges earn their degrees within three years. 2 

Several initiatives in recent years, including Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and 
Skills Training (l-BEST) Program and the Breaking Through initiative, have aimed to address these 
challenges and transform the delivery of community college programs to better meet the needs of 
students with low basic skills. 4 AO builds on these approaches, funding states and community colleges 
to allow students to access professional/technical, for-credit college programs at the same time that 
they are working to improve their basic skills, thereby accelerating the time it takes to obtain a 
credential. This is an alternative to the traditional approach of requiring students to complete 
developmental coursework before enrolling in for-credit programs. The AO model includes the 
following key features: 



■ for-credit career pathways in which students can earn valued occupational credentials, which 
articulate to longer-term credit and degree programs and respond to employer demand; 

contextualized and integrated learning, delivered through a team-teaching model where a 
career and technical education (CTE) instructor and a basic skills instructor work together in 
the same classroom; and 

■ enhanced support services, such as career coaching and assistance with child care and 
transportation, to help students navigate college and the complexity of their personal lives, 
while also preparing for entry into the world of work. 

Although the goal of AO was to transform community college programs, it was not expected that 
these elements of the model would be implemented uniformly across all states and participating 
colleges. Rather, targets were set by AO's administrators and by states, acknowledging that adoption of 
these new approaches would be gradual and adapted to each college's particular context. 


Key Accelerating Opportunity Design Elements: "Nonnegotiable” Aspects of the AO Model 

■ Two or more integrated career pathways in at least eight colleges 

■ Acceleration strategies 

■ Academic and social student support (e.g., tutoring, child care, transportation) 
Dual-enrollment strategies (e.g. paired courses, l-BEST or l-BEST-like approaches) 

■ Marketable, stackable, credit-bearing certificates and degrees 

■ Award of some college-level professional/technical credits 

■ Partnerships with workforce investment boards and employers 

■ Evidence of strong local demand for selected pathways 


In 2012, five states (Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and North Carolina) received three-year 
implementation grants and, in the first two years of implementation, 5,244 students in these states had 


2 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



started on a pathway and enrolled in AO programs at participating colleges. 5 When students complete 
their one- to two-semester (approximately 12-credit) program, it is expected that they will continue 
their education, find a job, or do both. Using data from a survey of AO students conducted in spring 
2014, this report expands knowledge of the initiative by presenting a profile of students enrolled in the 
program, their experiences with AO-related features, and their perceptions of AO. 


The Accelerating Opportunity Evaluation 

The Urban Institute, in partnership with the Aspen Institute and George Washington University, is 
conducting the evaluation of the AO initiative. The evaluation is composed of three interrelated 
components: an impact study that uses a comparison group design, a cost-benefit analysis, and an 
implementation study. This report, a key component of the implementation study, provides new data on 
the characteristics, perceptions, and, program experiences of AO students, adding to the findings from 
college surveys included in the first-year and second-year implementation reports (Anderson et al. 
2014; Anderson et al. 2015). 


About This Report 

This report is based on the responses of 444 students to a survey of all students currently participating 
in the AO evaluation in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. 6 The student survey was designed to 
provide information on students and their experiences in the program to supplement information 
collected through administrative data, site visits, site conference calls, and the first- and second-year 
college surveys. 

The goals of the survey were as follows: 

1. to better understand the students enrolled in AO, including their pre-program experiences, 
work history, and family composition; 

2. to understand the services received by AO students, including the amount/intensity of services 
received, with a goal of looking at the relationship between program experiences and student 
outcomes; and 

3. to get AO students’ perspectives on the program, their motivations for joining the program, and 
information on whether the program is meeting their expectations and needs. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


3 



Because the survey did not collect data on comparison group members, it is not possible to 
determine whether the program has exerted effects on student outcomes. However, the survey 
provides the opportunity to hear directly from students, not only to get their perspective on AO, but 
also to confirm and provide context for findings from the broader evaluation. Forthcoming reports will 
provide the results of the impact study, which is a quasi-experimental analysis of the effectiveness of 
the AO model based on its impact on educational and labor market outcomes of AO participants. 

The evaluation team asked all 46 participating colleges in the four states to disseminate the online 
survey to students enrolled in AO during spring semester 2014. 7 The survey was sent to 1,575 AO 
students. 8 Of those, 444 students from 39 colleges submitted complete responses to the survey, a 28 
percent response rate. A subsequent survey will be disseminated in spring 2015 to learn about student 
respondents’ experiences after AO. 


Interpreting the Survey Results 

The evaluation team previously administered a survey to the AO colleges that included questions about 
the overall student population for the second year of implementation. 9 Using the results of the second- 
year college survey as a benchmark, the student survey sample appears fairly representative of the AO 
population at large, with a few minor exceptions. Student characteristics are highly comparable in age 
and gender, with almost the exact same proportion of men and women among survey respondents and 
the overall AO population reported by the colleges. Race and ethnicity are also similar, although the 
student survey respondents include a somewhat higher proportion of white students (52 percent 
compared with 46 percent) and Hispanic/Latino students (22 percent compared with 19 percent) and a 
somewhat lower proportion of black or African American students (21 percent compared with 29 
percent) than reported by the colleges (figure 1). The differences between the other race and ethnicity 
categories are negligible. 

The proportion of student survey respondents who reported having a high school diploma or having 
passed the GED or other equivalency test (87 percent) is equal to the proportion reported on the 
second-year college survey. However, some of the student survey respondents could have earned their 
high school credential after starting AO, which means the number with a credential at enrollment might 
be lower than reported in the college survey. Finally, the proportion of survey respondents who 
reported receiving a Pell or other federal grant (35 percent) is slightly lower than the proportion among 
all AO students according to the second-year college survey (39 percent). The difference between 
students’ employment status is very minor. 


4 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



FIGURE 1 


Personal Characteristics of Student Survey Respondents Relative to the AO Population as Reported 
in the Second-Year College Survey 


White, +6% 


Black or 
African 
American, -8% 


No Pell 

Hispanic/ grant, +4% 


Latino, +3% 






Pell 

grant, - 4 % 


Sources: Second-year AO college survey and 2014 AO student survey. 

Notes: Differentials are calculated by subtracting the proportion reported on the second-year college survey from the proportion 
of student survey respondents for each measure. For example, the proportion of white survey respondents is 6 percentage points 
higher than the proportion of white students reported in the second-year college survey. Differentials of less than 2 percentage 
points are not reported. 

In addition, the vast majority of student survey respondents were in pathways for health care or 
manufacturing, consistent with the college survey results. However, somewhat higher proportions of 
student survey respondents were in manufacturing, automotive, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air 
conditioning), construction, and IT (information technology) than reported in the college survey, which 
showed slightly higher proportions of students in health care and other occupational areas, such as 
education and maintenance (figure 2). 

Very few or no AO students responded from about half the colleges, including a large college in 
Illinois. Sometimes this was because of low response rates, and sometimes this was because very few 
students were enrolled at a particular college. The response rate was highest in Illinois (42 percent) and 
lowest in Kansas (20 percent). The survey was fielded online and was approximately 15 to 20 minutes 
long. Students with low computer literacy or the lowest basic skills may have found the survey 
challenging to complete, although efforts were made to ensure that the survey was targeted at the 
appropriate reading level and that students had access to computers for completing the survey. In 
addition, some results may be influenced by the possibility that those who did not complete the survey 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 5 



were unsatisfied with components of the program at a higher than average level. Given those potential 
issues and differences between the composition of the AO student population and the population of 
survey respondents, estimates drawn from the student survey may be biased. 


FIGURE 2 

Pathway Occupational Areas of Survey Respondents versus Overall AO Population 



100 % 


90% 


80% 


70% 


60% 


50% 


40% 


30% 


20 % 


10 % 


0 % 


Survey respondents (n = 444) 


Year 2 AO population (n = 2,687) 


■ Other 
IT 

■ Business 
Construction 

■ HVAC 

■ Automotive 
Health care 

■ Manufacturing 


Sources: Second-year AO college survey and 2014 AO student survey. 

Notes: Louisiana began the initiative after the other states, so the second year refers to a different set of semesters: spring, 
summer, and fall 2013 for Illinois, Kansas, and Kentucky and fall 2013, spring 2014, and summer 2014 for Louisiana. HVAC= 
heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; IT = information technology. 


State Context 

To interpret the survey results, it is helpful to understand the local context and variation across the four 
states that fielded the student survey. The states faced similar successes and challenges in the 
implementation of the AO model, which may have affected students’ experiences in the program. The 
first- and second-year AO implementation reports highlight the following contextual factors: 

■ The states all benefited from previous initiatives involving adult education and community 
college systems that laid a foundation for the successful implementation of AO. 

■ Nearly all participating colleges implemented at least two pathway programs by the end of the 
first year. 


6 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 






■ The elimination of the Pell grant’s Ability to Benefit provision meant that students without high 
school credentials could not receive federal funding to participate in AO, leading states to 
expand the target population of the program to include a greater proportion of students with 
high school credentials. 10 10 

Most colleges have faced challenges in effectively providing support services to AO students. 

■ Most colleges encountered initial skepticism from instructors regarding the team-teaching 
model, but there have been shifts toward more support of this approach over time. 

Although the four states had some similar circumstances, states differed in their local economic 
context, funding sources and partners, strategies for developing program elements, buy-in by various 
stakeholders, and characteristics of the students targeted for the program. Those issues are explored in 
substantial detail in the first-year implementation report and the second-year implementation report 
(Anderson et al. 2014, Anderson et al. 2015). Those reports also contain results of the surveys of AO 
colleges. 


Who Are Accelerating Opportunity Students? 

The AO student survey further illuminates the background and characteristics of AO students by 
providing data not available in administrative records. Generally, the survey reveals a diverse 
population and one that is nontraditional in various respects. Survey respondents tended not to be 
traditional-age college students and included a high proportion who were responsible for dependent 
children. Most respondents reported that they were working, and about one-third said they were 
receiving some type of public assistance. It was the aim of the AO initiative to meet the diverse needs of 
this population and to improve the way community colleges structure programs for these 
nontraditional learners. 


Basic Demographics 

Most survey respondents in spring semester 2014 were not traditional college-age students. 
Respondents were almost evenly split by gender, with 55 percent male and 45 percent female. 11 
However, survey respondents tended to cluster into pathway occupational areas by gender, with 
automotive, construction, HVAC, and manufacturing pathways heavily male and business and health 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


7 



care pathways heavily female (figure 3). More than one-third of survey respondents— 36 percent— were 
traditional-age college students (ages 18 to 24). Fifty-four percent were between 25 and 44 years old, 
and 10 percent were age 45 or older. Several respondents mentioned that they felt that the program 
was suitably designed for a range of student ages and that older students received the support they 
needed from instructors. 


"This program gave me the support I needed. As someone who has been out of high school for 
many years, I was unsure if I could do the class work. ...It was comforting to know I had 
someone available at all times." 


FIGURE 3 

Gender of AO Participants by Pathway Occupational Area 

100 % -| 

90% - 
80% - 
70% - 
60% - 
50% - 
40% - 
30% - 
20 % - 
10 % - 
0 % -- 





iff ' 0 


iVN e 




,^b) 






<9 




G°° S 




(A 0 * 


19 


. \$\ 


y\e a ' 








t \b& 

yd 














kfa c 


10^' 






Female 

Male 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 

Notes: In this figure and subsequent figures, percentages are calculated using the total number of students who provided an 
answer to the question. HVAC = heading, ventilation, and air conditioning; IT = information technology. 


8 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 











More than half of the AO survey respondents were white, 21 percent were black or African 
American, and 22 percent were Hispanic of any race (figure 4). The patterns differed by state. Kentucky 
respondents included a high proportion of white students, while Louisiana’s AO respondents were 
majority black or African American. Hispanic student respondents were most common in Illinois. Only 
16 percent of students reported being born outside the United States, although the foreign-born 
population was higher in Illinois than in the other states. The absence of respondents from a large 
college in Illinois suggests that minority and foreign-born students may be underrepresented among 
survey respondents. 


FIGURE4 

Race of AO Participants by State 



(n=109) (n=113) (n=121) (n=56) 


Other 

Two or more races 

o Asian, Hawaiian, or 
Pacific Islander 

■ Hispanic of any race 
Black or African American 
White 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


Family and Household Composition 

The survey asked for detailed information about AO students’ family and household composition. 
Thirty-eight percent of students surveyed said they lived by themselves or with one other person, while 
the remaining 62 percent lived with two or more people. Thirty percent were married, 53 percent had 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 9 












never married, and the rest had been previously married. Forty-two percent lived with a spouse or 
partner, and more than half of AO participants— 55 percent— had one or more dependent children. 

A more complex picture emerges when one examines the composition of students’ families. Figure 
5 includes six emblematic family types that are based on marital status (single, married couple, and 
unmarried couple) and having dependent children. These family types can be useful for understanding 
students’ support needs. More than one-third of female AO students surveyed were single and had 
dependent children, a much higher proportion than any other family type for women. Men, however, 
were most likely to be single without dependent children (40 percent) or married with dependent 
children (24 percent). For the large portion of single women with dependent children in AO, access to 
assistance with child care or other financial support may be particularly important because these 
women may lack support from a spouse or partner. 

FIGURE 5 

Family Types by Gender 





9% 







• Married couple with 
dependents 

Unmarried couple with 
dependents 

• Single with dependents 



• Married couple without 

dependents 


Unmarried couple without 

6% 

dependents 


• Single without dependents 

31% 



Male(n=196) Female (n= 176) Total (n=372) 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


10 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



Work and Income 


Given the high proportion of AO students who have families to support, it is not surprising that over half 
(54 percent) of respondents reported that they were working at the time of the survey. However, as it 
turns out, students with dependent children were less likely than their peers to be employed at the time 
of the survey, perhaps because of the challenges of working and going to school while caring for a child. 

The students who were working at the time of the survey were employed in a variety of jobs, some 
of which were formal (i.e., earning a paycheck) and some of which were informal (i.e., working for pay 
but not receiving a paycheck). Of those who were working, 65 percent reported receiving a paycheck 
and not doing any informal work. Twenty-two percent were working informally. The remaining 13 
percent were doing both informal and formal work. This combination may be the result of inconsistent 
work hours or low hourly wages and the need for additional income. 

Most surveyed AO students who were working for a paycheck reported low wages. More than a 
quarter reported earning $8 an hour or less and nearly half earned $8 to $12. Commonly reported jobs 
included cashier, nursing assistant, equipment/machine operator, welder, and food server. 

Of the formally employed AO students surveyed, 46 percent worked part-time, or 30 or fewer 
hours a week. Thirty-three percent reported working 31 to 40 hours a week, and 21 percent of students 
said they worked more than 40 hours a week. For some students, work hours create time management 
challenges. One single parent gave feedback that she had a “great deal of difficulty juggling day care, 
work hours, [her] other class, etc.” when her AO class schedule was changed after she enrolled. 

Nearly all surveyed students had held formal employment at some point. Only 8 percent of students 
had never worked for a paycheck, which may be related to the age characteristics of the population. 
Survey respondents with no work history were younger than those with a work history. Sixty percent of 
students with no work history were younger than 25 at the time of the survey, perhaps reflecting the 
challenges that young people face in developing early work experiences in the current economy. 


Government Assistance 

At the time of the survey, 45 percent of AO respondents said they were receiving some form of 
government assistance aside from student financial aid. The most common form of government 
assistance was the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps), which 
supported 35 percent of respondents, including 54 percent of unmarried parents (figure 6). Only 3 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 11 



percent reported that they received unemployment insurance benefits, 6 percent said they received 
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and 4 percent reported receiving Supplemental 
Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). More than half did not report 
support from any of those programs. However, rates of assistance may be underreported, as is common 
with US Census surveys (Call et al. 2012; Meyer and Goerge 2011). 

FIGURE 6 

Government Assistance by Dependents and Marital Status 

n Unemployment insurance benefits SNAP sTANF ■ SSI or SSDI No government assistance 


70% 



(n=82) (n=117) 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


Education and Educational Aspirations 

The AO model was designed to target individuals with low basic skills, especially those in need of a high 
school credential, yet only 13 percent of students surveyed did not report a secondary school 
credential. 12 More than half (56 percent) of AO students responding to the survey had a high school 
diploma and about a third (31 percent) had a GED. Anderson and colleagues (2014) found that colleges 
enrolled a relatively low proportion of students without high school credentials into AO, partially 
because of the loss of the federal Pell grant’s Ability to Benefit provision. This change, which took effect 
in July 2012 and was in place when the survey was administered, precluded students without a 
secondary school credential from receiving federal financial aid. Some colleges made concerted efforts 
to recruit more individuals without high school credentials from adult education programs, but overall, 
in the first two years of the initiative, only about one-fifth of students came from adult education 


12 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



programs. Other colleges sought alternative sources of tuition funding for students who could not 
qualify for federal financial aid. Louisiana took this approach, making it the notable exception among the 
states; 56 percent of AO survey respondents from Louisiana reported that they did not have a high 
school diploma or GED, compared with 13 percent overall. 13 

Although the data suggest that AO may be serving more students with high school credentials than 
originally anticipated, they do not necessarily indicate that AO is serving a population with higher skills. 
Students eligible for AO may or may not have a high school credential but must fall within National 
Reporting System levels 4-6 (equivalent to grade 6 and above) on math, reading, or writing or National 
Reporting System levels 5-6 in English language skills. 

In addition to high school credentials, a sizable portion of survey respondents indicated other types 
of educational attainment. Whereas 36 percent of AO respondents attained only a high school degree 
or GED, another 31 percent reported having completed “some college,” which may or may not refer to 
their participation in AO or other career training to date. Seventeen percent previously earned a college 
certificate, 3 percent earned an associate’s degree, and 2 percent earned a bachelor’s degree. 14 Figure 7 
shows the highest educational attainment of survey respondents overall and by state. 

The educational aspirations of survey respondents reveal a population that is eager to pursue 
further education. While 14 percent of students said they would be satisfied with a high school 
credential or some college and 28 percent of students reported they would be satisfied with a college 
certificate, 27 percent hoped to earn an associate’s degree, 23 percent aimed for a bachelor’s degree, 
and another 8 percent aspired to earn a graduate degree. Although these long-term educational goals 
may not be completed within the time frame of AO programs— usually two semesters— the initiative is 
designed to enable students to successfully take their first steps on a longer career pathway and 
educational trajectory. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


13 



FIGURE 7 

Highest Educational Attainment by State 



100 % 


90% 


80% 


70% 


60% 


50% 


40% 


30% 


20 % 


10 % 


0 % 


Illinois (n=lll) 



Kansas 

(n=118) 



Kentucky 

(n=128) 



Louisiana 

(n=63) 



Total (n=420) 


Graduate degree 

■ Bachelor's degree 
Associate's degree 

■ College certificate >1 yr 
College certificate <1 yr 

■ Some college 

■ GED 

High school diploma 

■ Less than high school 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


The fact that nearly 60 percent of surveyed students reported educational aspirations beyond the 
immediate certificates they can earn in the program could mean the AO initiative is successful in 
orienting students to longer-term career goals that require further education, rather than just being 
focused on an immediate job. It is also possible that AO colleges are recruiting a population of students 
interested in pursuing further education or that the survey respondents are a more motivated group. 


"/ enjoyed this opportunity and have learned so much from it. I feel I will be well prepared for 
starting college in the fall because of this program." 


14 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 













Why Do Students Choose to Enroll in AO? 


The survey reveals students’ initial reasons for enrolling in AO programs. The most common reason for 
enrolling was to earn a certificate, degree, or credential, which was listed among the top three reasons 
for enrolling by nearly two-thirds of respondents. The next two most common reasons were to begin a 
new career and to get a job (49 percent and 43 percent, respectively). Improving skills and making more 
money were also frequently identified. Only 13 percent of students selected earning a high school 
credential among their top reasons. Some students noted in open-ended responses that they were in 
the program “for [their] children” or "to make [their] family’s life better.” 

The least commonly cited reasons were to earn credits toward a college degree, to get a better job 
in the same field, and to get a promotion. This suggests that most surveyed students did not necessarily 
anticipate earning a college degree after AO, even though students appear to be interested in further 
education, as indicated previously. It also shows that students were interested in starting new careers 
rather than furthering themselves within a field in which they were already employed. Thirty-nine 
percent of students reported prior experience working in the same field as their AO pathway. As shown 
in figure 8, a larger proportion of students in construction and manufacturing indicated having 
previously worked in their sector, in contrast to students in business and IT pathways. 

The vast majority of survey respondents were in AO pathways for occupations in manufacturing 
(41 percent) or health care (37 percent), such as certified nurse aides or emergency medical technicians 
(figure 9). The next most common pathways were in the automotive (8 percent) and HVAC (4 percent) 
fields. A handful of survey respondents were enrolled in occupational pathways for business, culinary, 
construction, and IT. This is reflective of all four states’ investment in pathways in high-demand 
occupations, particularly those in health care and manufacturing. 

Most surveyed students selected AO pathways primarily because they could earn a good living in 
jobs in those fields (57 percent). Other students selected reasons related to a perceived strong fit of the 
pathway (i.e., they thought they would like the jobs or do well in the jobs within those industries). A few 
people cited having previous experience or having a friend or family member in the field as their reason 
for selecting the pathway. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


15 



FIGURE 8 


Prior Experience Working in Pathway Field 


47% 



Source: 2014 AO student survey. 

Note: HVAC = heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; IT = information technology. 



20 



FIGURE 9 

Pathway Occupational Areas by State 

100% n 


90% - 
80% - 
70% - 
60% - 
50% - 
40% - 
30% - 
20 % - 
10 % - 
0 % — 


47 



41 




linois 
(n=122) 


Kansas 
(n= 120) 


Kentucky 
(n= 134) 


Louisiana Total (n=444) 
(n=68) 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 

Note: HVAC = heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; IT = information technology. 


■ Other 
IT 

■ Business 
Construction 

■ HVAC 

■ Automotive 
Health care 

■ Manufacturing 


16 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 












What Instruction and Academic Support Did Students 
Receive? 


The goals of AO are to help adults with low skills succeed in professionally or technically focused 
programs that prepare them for good jobs and enable them to earn credit toward longer-term degree 
programs that offer the potential for higher earnings and career growth. Data from the student survey 
shed additional light on how the participating AO colleges structured their programs to further these 
goals. Instruction was delivered primarily through both lecture and hands-on learning; 60 percent of 
students received job-site training or some other form of employer exposure through site visits, 
meetings, or class visits. Surveyed students reported that their courses were focused more on building 
job-related skills than on improving basic skills: less than a quarter of students reported coursework 
related to English as a second language (ESL) and GED preparation. Additionally, more than two-thirds 
of students had some form of integrated instruction, whereas tutoring was a smaller component of 
students’ experience. Many of these data corroborate earlier findings from other sources, as described 
in the first- and second-year implementation reports (Anderson et al. 2104, Anderson et al. 2015). This 
section describes in more detail what surveyed students experienced in their AO programs, highlighting 
important differences across states, programs of study, or subpopulations. 


Delivery of Instruction and Learning 

The student survey yields information on how programs were structured to teach CTE content that 
students needed to know to obtain a credential (or multiple credentials) and find related jobs. Although 
participation in traditional classroom activities was common— 70 percent said they spent time in 
classroom-based lecture and discussion as part of the program— applied and hands-on learning was also 
common. Twenty-eight percent of students said they participated in learning at a job site, and 75 
percent said they participated in hands-on activities in a lab or simulated work environment. Students 
who reported engaging in these activities said that they spent 6 to 10 hours each week, on average, 
participating in hands-on learning, compared with 3 to 5 hours on lecture or discussion in class. 

Students specifically mentioned in the open-ended survey feedback that they benefited from the 
"different ways of learning.” 

The incorporation of hands-on learning— whether at school or on the job site— reflects adult- 
learning principles as well as the professional and technical nature of the AO programs and the 
requirements of particular industries. More than 72 percent of surveyed students in automotive, 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


17 



construction, health care, HVAC, and manufacturing pathways said they spent time participating in 
hands-on instruction in lab or on equipment (figure 10). Given the manual or physical nature of these 
occupations, the high share with hands-on learning is not surprising. In comparison, lower proportions 
of surveyed students in business and IT pathways— 36 percent and 45 percent, respectively— spent time 
on hands-on learning. A majority of students (80 percent) who engaged in training at the work site were 
in the health care sector, likely reflective of clinical/field experience requirements for licensure in 
particular occupations, such as certified nurse aid and emergency medical technician. 


FIGURE 10 

Activities Included in the Program by Occupational Area 



■ Lecture or discussion in 
class 

Hands-on learning in lab or 
on equipment at the college 

■ T raining at a job site 

■ Homework 
None of these 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 

Note: HVAC = heating, ventilation, and air conditioning; IT = information technology. 

Outside of classroom or hands-on learning, surveyed students also reported homework as a 
common activity. More than 75 percent reported doing homework as part of the program. Of those 
students, over half spent 1 to 5 hours a week on homework, whereas a smaller proportion (13 percent) 
spent significantly more time on homework— over 15 hours a week on average. Homework is an 
expected component of college programs. For AO students, it may both reinforce classroom learning 
and prepare students for further education in college programs. At the same time, given the large 
percentage of students who have dependent children and who report working, homework may add to 
the complexity of students’ lives. 


18 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



Although the survey did not ask about online instruction, many students mentioned online classes 
in their feedback, both positively and negatively. Some students appreciated the flexibility: “I really like 
being able to take as many classes online as possible. It was easier for me, and I could still help support 
my family financially.” Others found the online instruction rushed or difficult, with too little face-to-face 
time with the instructors. One student even suggested she would not be able to get her certificate 
because, for her, "the online classes were too hard.” 


Exposure to Employers 

Another way that students can prepare for work and careers is through exposure to employers in the 
sector related to their field of study. Exposure to employers can help students better understand the 
nature of the work and the culture and environments of their future workplaces. Exposure can even 
help students to make connections that can be helpful later in their job search. Almost half of surveyed 
students reported having contact with employers in the field as part of the program, and if those who 
participated in training at a job site are included, 60 percent of students surveyed reported having 
exposure to employers as part of the program. 15 The second most common way surveyed students 
came in contact with employers was through a tour or site visit to a workplace (23 percent), followed by 
a visit from an employer to the classroom (22 percent; figure 11). 

FIGURE 11 

Exposure to Employers 


None 


40% 


Trained at a job site 


28% 


Went on a tour or site visit to an employer 


23% 


Employer visited class 


22 % 


Met with an employer one-on-one or in a small group 


18% 


Other 


1 % 


(n = 372) 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


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19 



Course Content 


AO is meant to help students build their occupational skills related to getting a job and pursuing a 
career. At the same time, AO aims to help students develop general academic skills or address basic skill 
deficiencies. To better understand the extent to which students focused on these learning areas, the 
survey asked students about the content of their courses. More students (64 percent) reported 
spending time on content related to building knowledge and skills for an occupation than any other 
area. About half also said that coursework included instruction to improve their reading, writing, or 
math skills. One explanation for the low share of students reporting that they received instruction in 
these areas is that many students did not know that they were receiving instruction in reading, writing 
and math skills when it was integrated as part of job skills content. Readiness for the world of work was 
also a focus, with 46 percent of students reporting that their courses included a focus on general job 
readiness and 41 percent reporting a focus on job search skills (figure 12). 

FIGURE 12 

Topics Covered in AO Courses 


Building knowledge/skills for a job 
Improving reading, writing, or math 
Improving general job readiness skills 
Improving job search skills 
Improving English language skills 
Preparing for the GED 
None of the above 



64% 


(n = 427) 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


20 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



A much smaller percentage said that they spent time in their classes preparing for the GED or other 
high school equivalency test (14 percent), which is consistent with the low proportion of students 
without a high school credential, or spent time receiving ESL instruction (20 percent). 


Integrated Instruction through Team Teaching 

The AO model was meant to replicate several key elements from Washington State’s l-BEST program, 
includingteam teaching. Duringteam teaching, two instructors are in the classroom: one who is focused 
on delivering CTE instruction and one who is focused on basic skills content. 16 The idea is to help 
"accelerate” student learning while better engaging students. 

The AO model requires that colleges use team teaching for at least 25 percent of AO instructional 
hours over the course of a term. According to results of the student survey, 72 percent of students 
experienced team teaching while in the program, whereas 28 percent never reported having two 
teachers in the classroom at the same time. One student stated that the program could use another 
instructor "to lift the workload.” The highest proportion of students reporting being in a team-taught 
class was in Louisiana (85 percent of respondents). About 70 percent of respondents in Kentucky, 
Kansas, and Illinois reported being in a team-taught class. 

Of the students who reported having two teachers, 29 percent reported two teachers were in their 
classes all the time, 36 percent said they had two teachers in most of their classes, and 30 percent said 
that two teachers were in some of their classes. The remaining 5 percent said they had only two 
teachers in a class once or twice. The survey does not clearly indicate whether colleges were meeting 
the goals set by program administrators because the goals were based on a targeted number of team- 
taught hours, but a majority of students reported that they experienced team teaching frequently. In 
addition, it is possible that some AO participants did not realize that two teachers were in the classroom 
with them, depending on the form of team teaching practiced. The AO implementation research 
revealed that, in some classrooms, the adult education instructor sat in the back of the room and took 
notes to inform supplemental instructional activities outside the classroom rather than engaging as an 
equal instructor in the classroom. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


21 



Tutoring 


Tutoring can also play an important role in student learning, providing students with extra help outside 
the classroom either one on one or in small groups. Tutoring was a moderate component of the 
program; 57 percent of respondents received no form of tutoring. Of those who received tutoring, 48 
percent participated in small work groups, while approximately the same number (44 percent) received 
one-on-one tutoring. Online tutoring and extra class sessions were less common. 


“The one-on-one math tutoring that I had before my lecture would start helped me a lot. For 
the Compass test, I had to retake Math and Language Arts, but I didn’t have a tutor to help 
for the Language Arts section." 


What Other Support Did Students Receive? 

A major issue for students in community college or four-year college programs can be the lack of 
support available, particularly around non-academic issues. In large systems, as many as 1,000 students 
can be on a single advisor’s caseload, making it difficult to provide some students with the kind of 
personal support they need (Scrivener and Weiss 2009). Some systems have created new positions 
called "career navigators” to provide students with more employment-focused support, while others 
have added counseling staff members to ensure that students receive more intensive support and help 
with personal issues that may interfere with success in college. 

Enhanced student support is a key component of the AO model, although what this looks like varies, 
depending on the college and state in which AO is operating. The majority of students reported that 
staff members provided them with support and advice on a range of issues, including college, job, 
financial, and personal issues. However, almost a quarter (23 percent) did not report receiving help 
from any staff members. One student wished he had received financial assistance and other referrals 
but did not know how to get them, and another student regretted not knowing that assistance was 
available. However, because of low response rates for these particular questions, the findings might not 
be representative of all respondents. 


22 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



Of the students surveyed, 69 percent received assistance for college/academic issues, whereas 
much smaller percentages received assistance with job (33 percent), personal (27 percent), or financial 
(24 percent) issues, as shown in figure 13. These data suggest that counseling and advising in AO may be 
delivered in a way that reflects the traditional community college model, with more of a focus on 
academics and college than other kinds of support. The first- and second-year implementation reports 
describe how colleges have continued to face challenges, primarily related to funding, in making support 
services available to AO students. 

FIGURE 13 

Types of Support Received from Advisors 



(n = 376) 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 

The fact that AO students reported receiving support for multiple issues (college/academic, job, 
personal, or financial) illustrates the comprehensive nature of the support, which is a key part of the AO 
model. Figure 14 shows how, in Illinois, surveyed students appeared to receive more comprehensive 
support than in other states: 92 percent reported that they received assistance on at least one issue, 
and 32 percent reported that they received assistance on three or four issues. About three-quarters of 
respondents in both Kentucky and Louisiana received support on at least one issue, and less than one- 
quarter received support on three or four issues. Respondents in Kansas received the least 
comprehensive support services: 40 percent did not receive any advising on academic, job, financial, or 
personal issues. Some of Kansas’s lack of support stems from the fact that students there, who were 
often automatically enrolled from existing CTE classes, may not have accepted offered support because 
they neither chose the AO program nor based their decision to enroll on the availability of AO support. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


23 



FIGURE 14 


Student Receipt of Comprehensive Advising for Academic, Job, Financial, and Personal Issues 


100 % -| 
90% - 
80% - 
70% - 
60% - 
50% - 
40% - 
30% - 
20 % - 
10 % - 
0 % -- 


13 


40 


24 




23 


23 



(n=104) 


13 


13 



10 






Louisiana 

(n=48) 

1 1 

Total (n=368) 


Received assistance for 
none of these issues 

■ Received assistance for one 
out of these four issues 

■ Two out of four 

Three out of four 

■ All four 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


Those students who did receive comprehensive support could see the benefit. One student shared 
feedback about his advisors at the college’s learning center. 


“[I] received help from [staff members] ... in a variety of ways. From scheduling my classes to 
making sure my finances were in order. I am very grateful for [the staff’s] help. " 


One way of understanding the nature of the counseling relationship and its potential effectiveness 
is to look at whether counseling occurs only in reaction to an issue that arises or if there are efforts to 
intervene before a problem happens. To evaluate this, the survey asked about the nature of the 
interactions with counselors/advisors and found that almost half of students had regularly scheduled 


24 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 












meetings with their advisors, whereas 41 percent met with their advisors only when issues came up. An 
additional 11 percent interacted with their advisors/counselors only when these staff members 
contacted them, suggesting either that advisors/counselors were taking proactive steps to support 
students or possibly that students did not view the counselors as helpful resources. 


How Much Financial Assistance Did Students Receive? 

Financial assistance can play a key role in helping students realize educational and career goals. 
Financial issues can often get in the way of students completing their college program. While colleges 
sought to ease the financial burden for students in various ways, many students reported having to pay 
for the program themselves. Sixty-eight percent of surveyed students reported having to pay for some 
part of the AO program, whereas 32 percent said that the program did not cost them anything (figure 
15). Of those who reported having to pay money out of their own pocket for the program, 75 percent 
reported spending less than $500 while they were in the program. One student felt that there were 
"way too many out-of-pocket expenses that the students [had] to pay for, like testing fees and buying 
uniforms to do clinical time.” 


FIGURE 15 

Out-of-Pocket Expenses Paid by Students 


Uniforms or equipment needed for class 

Books 
Tuition 
College fees 
Medical exams or health screenings 
Background check or fingerprinting 
Other testing fees 
GED testing fees 
Other 

None of the above 



Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


25 



The most commonly reported costs to students were class materials, such as uniforms and 
equipment (30 percent) and books (29 percent). Twenty-two percent reported having to pay for tuition, 
and another 22 percent reported having to pay for college fees. When looking at differences across 
states in terms of the tuition burden, Louisiana and Kentucky had the smallest percentages of students 
reporting that they had to pay for tuition— 9 percent and 11 percent, respectively— compared with 
about one-third of students in Kansas and Illinois. This may be related to the fact that Kentucky had the 
largest number of Pell or other federal grant recipients (58 percent) and Louisiana was able to use 
tuition waivers more freely than the other states, as shown in figure 16. 

FIGURE 16 

Pell Receipt by State 


58% 



Source: 2014 AO student survey. 

Students who reported having to pay for AO said they used a variety of financial resources for the 
program, as shown in figure 17. Surprisingly, although the colleges targeted students who had high 
school credentials and who should have been Pell-eligible, only 35 percent reported that they received 
Pell or other federal grant funding to pay for the program. One factor contributing to the relatively low 
uptake of Pell grants may be the fact that some short-term programs within AO pathways do not meet 
federal eligibility for semester hours offered during a defined period of instruction. 17 As noted above, 
Pell receipt was higher in Kentucky— 58 percent— and lower in the other states: 33 percent in Kansas, 
25 percent in Illinois, and only 7 percent in Louisiana. In addition, many students (25 percent) received 
help from their colleges to pay for the program, and 19 percent reported that they took out a loan to 
pay for college or received help from a friend or family member (17 percent). Fourteen percent of re- 


26 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



spondents said that they paid for all the costs of the program themselves. Students without a high 
school credential were more likely to cover all the costs of the program themselves (23 percent 
compared with 13 percent of students with a high school credential) or to receive assistance from their 
college (44 percent compared with 22 percent). They were less likely to receive assistance from other 
sources. 

FIGURE 17 


Pell grant or other federal grant 
Student's college 
Loans that need to be repaid 
A friend or family member 
Student covered all costs 
A local WIA or workforce agency 
Other community agency/organization 
A local TANF or welfare agency 
Private grant or scholarship 
Student's employer 
State grant or scholarship 



(n = 406) 


35% 


Sources of Financial Assistance to Students 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 

Note: WIA = Workforce Investment Agency. 


The survey asked students about help they received paying for some of the common noncollege 
expenses. Small percentages received financial help with child care (6 percent), transportation (14 
percent), and emergencies (7 percent). An even smaller number reported receiving referrals to those 
types of assistance, with only 4 percent receiving referrals to child care, 10 percent receiving referrals 
to transportation assistance, and 6 percent being referred to help with emergencies. Of those 
respondents who were responsible for dependent children, just 10 percent reported receiving financial 
assistance with child care, and 5 percent reported being referred to child care assistance. States did not 
vary much in terms of the child care assistance that survey respondents reported receiving. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


27 



How Satisfied Were Students with AO? 


Overall, students appear to be very satisfied with almost all aspects of AO. Ninety-one percent of 
students said the program exceeded or met their expectations, with 44 percent of students saying the 
program exceeded their expectations and 47 percent saying their expectations were met (figure 18). 
The program did not quite meet the expectations of 8 percent of students and did not at all meet the 
expectations of 2 percent. In addition, 63 percent of students would highly recommend the program to 
a friend or family member. Only 2 percent would not recommend the program. 


"This is the most amazing program to start and further your education. The support from the 
staff is inspiring; they make you want to excel in all of your future endeavors. This 
opportunity has encouraged me to execute my career goals without ever giving up. This has 
been an experience to truly be thankful for.” 


FIGURE 18 

Did the Program Meet Students’ Expectations? 



■ Did not at all meet 
Did not quite meet 

□ Met 

■ Exceeded 


(n = 426) 


Source: 2014 AO student survey. 


28 


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The survey asked about students’ satisfaction with particular aspects of the program. Each program 
component (lecture/discussion in class, hands-on learning, job site training, and homework) was met 
with a satisfaction rate of more than 90 percent. Most students (84 percent or more) felt that their 
classes spent the right amount of time on various topic areas (preparing for the GED, reading/writing, 
ESL instruction, job knowledge/skills, job readiness skills, and job search skills); however, 12 percent 
would have preferred more time spent on preparing for the GED, and 11 percent would have preferred 
more time spent on job search skills. Generally, students were very satisfied with the support and 
advice they received from their advisors; only 7 percent were dissatisfied with the support and advice 
they received on financial issues, whereas less than 3 percent were dissatisfied with the academic, 
career, and personal advice they received. As reported previously, financial advice was less common 
than other types of counseling. 


"/ am happy to have AO. It would have taken me three to four years to earn myAAS 
[associate in applied science degree] if it hadn’t been for the AO program. What I am learning 
in this program helped me get the job I currently have and is helping me know what kind of 
job I want in the future." 


Despite overall satisfaction, students did indicate that they would have liked more academic 
support through team teaching and tutoring. Forty-three percent of students believed they would have 
benefited from more team teaching. That number increases to 63 percent among students without a 
high school credential. One student stated, "There has been support with a second teacher in most 
classes, but I feel that the lab class needs two teachers as well.” In addition, more than one-third of 
students said they would have benefited from more tutoring, which was not a large part of the program. 
Although the large majority of students did not find the career and technical classes difficult, 19 percent 
said they were "difficult” or "very difficult.” Also, in providing open-ended feedback, several students 
noted the accelerated pace of the courses, explaining that not enough time was spent on certain topics 
to fully learn them. "My only issue is that the majority of the curriculum taught flew over my head due to 
the accelerated process of the course,” said one student. Another said, "The class would have been 
better if the teacher showed the skills more than once before she expected you to learn them.” Those 
individuals might have benefited from additional educational support. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


29 



Almost 90 percent of students felt that the program adequately prepared them or very well 
prepared them for work in their field of training or for further education. Students in health care and 
manufacturing pathways, the two occupational areas that were most heavily invested in by the majority 
of AO colleges, were more likely to feel very well prepared for work than their peers in other 
occupational areas. 

Students were given the opportunity to share open-ended feedback about their experience in the 
program. Overall feedback was highly positive, especially with regard to the staff and instructors. 
Students described the staff as "very helpful,” "supportive,” and “encouraging.” Complaints about 
teachers were less common, but a couple of students said that their instructors were not well prepared 
or that they moved too quickly. 


“Every one of [the] staff [members is] there to help you in any way that they can, whether it's 
school or... a personal problem. They are always there for you ... and give you a great support 
system." 


Respondents also highlighted the program’s ability to meet the needs of nontraditional students 
(e.g., older students, parents, and students with low levels of educational attainment). 


"Never in a million years ... did I ever imagine myself going back to college, not only for my 
GED, but to get a degree. I think this program is a great asset to the community. It provides 
people who work different schedules and [have a] home life [the opportunity] to get an 
education and better themselves." 


Critiques were most commonly related to (1) a need for further training in specific skill sets, such as 
particular equipment or computer software; (2) a lack of physical and financial resources, such as 
laptops, tools, or tuition assistance; or (3) disorganization in program scheduling. 


30 A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



"[The program] wasn’t as organized as it needed to be. To prepare students for work and 
employment, the school needs to be prepared first. All the hiccups should be done before the 
class starts.” 


Students had mixed feedback about the length of the program, some saying that it was too short 
and fast-paced and others indicating that parts could have been shortened. The feedback reveals that 
students have varying needs, with some wanting more time spent on career training versus basic skills 
and vice versa. 


Conclusion 

Accelerating Opportunity was designed to meet the needs of individuals with low literacy and 
numeracy skills and predominantly those who lack a high school credential. The program provides those 
individuals with access to college through a career pathway program in which they can earn short-term 
credentials and college credit and improve their basic skills and their long-term educational and 
employment outcomes. Despite the shift in AO's target population, mainly resulting from the Pell policy 
change, the results of the AO student survey suggest the initiative has continued to serve a vulnerable 
population with complex lives. More than half of surveyed students reported being responsible for 
dependent children, more than one-quarter of those who worked were in jobs paying less than $8 an 
hour, and nearly half of students were not working at all. More than one-third reported receiving SNAP 
assistance. 

Survey results do not describe the academic needs of students, but information collected from site 
visits and interviews with program administrators suggests that the AO initiative has continued to 
serve an academically challenged population, despite the fact that the majority of students had a high 
school degree or its equivalent. Analysis of test scores as part of the broader evaluation will shed more 
light on this issue. The survey does reveal that students desired additional academic support, with 
nearly half saying they would have benefited from more team teaching and more than one-third saying 
they wanted more tutoring. 

Despite challenges highlighted in earlier reports with securing college administrator and faculty 
support for team teaching, a sizable portion of survey respondents said their AO classes were team 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


31 



taught all or most of the time. At the same time, team teaching is one of the "non-negotiable elements of 
the AO model,” yet about a quarter of students said they never had two teachers in the classroom. 

Given the demand from students, the program’s administrators can continue to look to expand the 
availability of team-taught classes, drawing on what they have learned to date about how best to 
implement this aspect of the model. 

The goal of this instructional and academic support is to help students make progress along career 
pathways. One clearway to prepare students for jobs and careers is to give them the practical 
knowledge and hands-on experience to qualify for jobs and thrive in the workplace. Increasingly, 
surveys of employers indicate a desire for workers, even at the entry level, who have related experience 
(Manpower Group 2014). Most AO student survey respondents indicated they were gaining exposure 
to employers and to the workplace as part of the AO program. While this may be, in part, because of 
industry requirements in the health care sector, such approaches can be important for engaging 
students who may not have been successful in traditional classroom settings and for helping adult 
learners master the necessary skills for career success. Program administrators may include additional 
opportunities to integrate hands-on learning and exposure to the industry, such as expanding paid 
internships, across all pathways. 

Non-academic support can be critical for helping students, especially those who are supporting 
families or working, realize their education and career goals. Whereas most surveyed students received 
some counseling and assistance, 23 percent did not receive counseling or advising support on any 
issues; the most common support provided was help with academic issues. However, in no surveyed 
states did the majority of respondents report receiving support services for a range of issues. AO 
programs may be able to do more to offer enhanced support services, but resource constraints likely 
pose a challenge in delivering services. 

Resource constraints probably also limit financial assistance to students. Sixty-eight percent of 
students reported having to pay for some aspect of the program, although most reported spending 
$500 or less. For low-income students, those costs may pose a particular burden and interfere with 
their ability to complete the program and succeed in it. Had more students received Pell grants, they 
might not have had to bear so many program expenses. It is unclear why so few students reported 
receiving Pell grants when the majority of students had a high school diploma or equivalent. 

Despite these financial limitations, students reported high levels of satisfaction with AO and felt 
that it prepared them well for further education and their careers. Students valued the support they 
received and generally expressed strong satisfaction with each component of the program. Although 


32 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR PROGRAM EXPERIENCES 



there were suggested improvements— for example, the need for additional academic skills support— the 
overwhelmingly positive feedback suggests that students perceived that the program was meeting their 
needs. A follow-up survey in spring 2015 will provide the opportunity for students to further reflect on 
the effectiveness of AO in helping them realize their education and career goals after they have left the 
program. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


33 



Notes 


1. Jobs for the Future (JFF) manages the initiative and partners with the National College Transition Network, 
the National Council for Workforce Education, and the Washington State Board for Community and Technical 
Colleges to provide states with technical assistance. A consortium of foundations, including the Bill and 
Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the 
University of Phoenix Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations, has provided funding for the AO 
initiative. 

2 . Digest of Education Statistics, "Table 104.10. Rates of high school completion and bachelor's degree 
attainment among persons age 25 and over, by race/ethnicity and sex: Selected years, 1910 through 2013,” 
National Center for Education Statistics, accessed February 26, 2015, 
http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/dl3/tables/dtl3_104.10.asp. 

3 . Digest of Education Statistics, “Table 326.20. Graduation rates of first-time, full-time degree/certificate- 
seeking students at 2-year postsecondary institutions who completed a credential within 150 percent of 
normal time, by race/ethnicity, sex, and control of institution: Selected cohort entry years, 2000 through 
2009,” National Center for Education Statistics, accessed February 26, 2015, 
http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/dl3/tables/dtl3_326.20.asp. 

4. For more information on l-BEST, see 

http://www.sbctc.ctc.edu/college/e_integratedbasiceducationandskillstraining.aspx. For more information on 
Breaking Through, see http://www.jff.org/initiatives/breaking-through. 

5. Data are from the first and second-year AO college surveys. 

6. North Carolina transitioned out of the initiative in mid-2013 to pursue other priorities within the state. It was 
not included in the AO student survey. 

7. Survey respondents include students who started the program in spring 2014 and in 2013. 

8. Because of privacy concerns, the Urban Institute was unable to contact students directly for the purpose of 
administering the survey. Instead, colleges were charged with sending out the survey to their AO students, and 
some colleges chose not to do so. Therefore, the number of students who received the survey is lower than the 
total number of AO students. 

9. For Illinois, Kansas, and Kentucky, 2013 was the second year of implementation. Because Louisiana started the 
AO program after the other states, the second year of implementation refers to fall 2013 through summer 
2014. To maintain consistency with the second-year implementation report, characteristics of the student 
population based on the college survey were counted in the same way for both reports, by using data from the 
34 colleges in these four states that offered programs in the first and second years. 

10 . In July 2012, Congress eliminated the Ability to Benefit provision, which had allowed students who lacked a 
high school degree or its equivalent to receive federal aid for higher education, including Pell grants. In 
December 2014, the Ability to Benefit provision was partially restored, with students enrolled in career 
pathway programs after July 1, 2014, eligible for aid. However, individuals who enroll in career pathway 
programs after July 1, 2015, will not be eligible for full financial aid through Pell. 

11 . Unless otherwise noted, percentages are based on the number of students who provided answers to the 
survey questions. Students who skipped a question or responded with “don’t know” or “prefer not to answer” 
are not included in the total number of respondents for that question. 

12 . As mentioned previously, the proportion of students without a high school credential is slightly lower among 
survey respondents than among the overall population reported by the colleges in the college survey (13 
percent compared with 18 percent). The small difference might be because the survey was administered on 
the computer, so those with very low literacy or computer skills may have been less likely to complete it. It also 
may be because there were relatively fewer responses from Louisiana, which had a higher proportion of 
students without secondary school credentials enrolled in AO. 



13 . As described in the first-year implementation report, Louisiana successfully recruited more students without 
high school credentials by broadly interpreting existing tuition waiver rules, allowing more students to receive 
financial assistance. Because Louisiana joined the AO initiative after the other states, the Louisiana state office 
also had more time to plan for the change in Pell rules than the other states. 

14 . The survey asked about the highest level of education students have completed at this time. Some students 
may have counted their time in AO and responded with "some college,’’ even if they had only completed high 
school or less before enrolling in AO. It is also possible that students may have earned a certificate through an 
AO program before taking the AO student survey, as several pathways offer entry-level certificates that are 
completed in the beginning of the program, which is typically two semesters in length. 

15 . The second-year implementation report includes further discussion of the role of employers in the pathway 
programs. Employers interacted with students through hiring, providing work-based learning opportunities, 
and providing guidance to AO programs. 

16. For more on the l-BEST model and its approach to team teaching, see 
http://www.careerladdersproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/How-IBest-Works-CCRC-Report.pdf. 

17 . Federal student aid requires at least 600 clock hours, 16 semester or trimester hours, or 24 quarter hours of 
undergraduate instruction offered during a minimum of 15 weeks of instruction. For more information see the 
Federal Student Aid Handbook (July 2012) at 

http://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1213FSAHbkVol2Ch2.pdf. 


A PORTRAIT OF ACCELERATING OPPORTUNITY STUDENTS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 


35 



References 


Anderson, Theresa, Lauren Eyster, Robert I. Lerman, Carol Clymer, Maureen Conway, and Marcela Montes. 2014. 
The First Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and Colleges. 
Washington, DC: Urban Institute, http://www.urban.org/publications/413238.html. 

Anderson, Theresa, Lauren Eyster, Robert I. Lerman, Carolyn O’Brien, Maureen Conway, Ranita Jain, and Marcela 
Montes. 2015. The Second Year of Accelerating Opportunity: Implementation Findings from the States and 
Colleges. Washington, DC: Urban Institute, http://www.urban.org/publications/2000132.html. 

Bailey, Thomas, and Sung-Woo Cho. 2010. "Issue Brief: Developmental Education in Community Colleges.” New 
York: Community College Research Center, Teacher’s College, Columbia University. 

Bailey, Thomas, Dong Wook Jeong, and Sung-Woo Cho. 2010. “Issue Brief: Student Progression through 

Developmental Sequence in Community Colleges.” New York: Community College Research Center, Teacher’s 
College, Columbia University. 

Call, Kathleen T., Michael E. Davern, Jacob A. Klerman, and Victoria Lynch. 2012. “Comparing Errors in Medicaid 
Reporting across Surveys: Evidence to Date.” Health Services Research 48: 652-64. 

Meyer, Bruce D., and Robert M. Goerge. 2011. Errors in Survey Reporting and Imputation and Their Effects on 
Estimates of Food Stamp Program Participation. Center for Economic Studies Paper CES-WP-11-14. 
Washington, DC: US Census Bureau. 

Heckman, James, and Tim Kautz. 2014. “Achievement Tests and the Role of Character in American Life.” In The 
Myth of Achievement Tests: The GED and the Role of Character in American Life, edited by James J. Heckman, 
John Erick Humphries, and Tim Kautz, 3-56. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

Manpower Group. 2014. The Talent Shortage Continues: Flow the Ever-Changing Rote of HR Can Bridge the Gap. 
Milwaukee, Wl: Manpower Group. 

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 2013. Skilled for Life? Key Findings from the 
Survey of Adult Skills. Paris: OECD. 

Scrivener, Susan, and Michael J. Weiss. 2009. "More Guidance, Better Results?” New York: MDRC. 



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