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Focus On Basics

Volume 6, Issue D ::: February 04

EdCAP: A Transition Program in Transition

Fine tuning a transition program for recent high school drop outs requires a willingness to try and try again

by Karen Johnson, Barbara Haas, Barbara Harrell, & Roy Alameida
In 1995, Washington State responded to a truancy and drop out epidemic with legislation known as the Becca Bill, named for a Seattle-area teenager who died while skipping school without her parents having been informed by the school district. This law required all students under the age of 18 not attending a K-12 school to be enrolled in an adult learning program through the age of 18 or until they completed a certificate of General Educational Development (GED) or a high school diploma. If students did not comply, school districts were required to take them to court, and students and their parents could be fined or sentenced to jail. At that time, the Developmental Education Division at Edmonds Community College (ECC), in Lynwood, WA, housed a free GED program as well as a high school completion program for adults over the age of 17, in which students under age 19 had to pay full college tuition. Over the next few years, the program was swamped with 16 to 18 year olds, many of whom would have preferred to earn a high school diploma but could not afford the tuition. The GED program did not provide any career training or job skills. A specialized free program that combined a high school diploma with career training was needed for these drop outs.

After researching what was happening in other school districts, Karen Johnson, the ECC Dean of Developmental Education, learned of several "youth re-engagement" programs at local community colleges that were contracting with local districts to provide diploma programs at the colleges. State funding for these students was divided between the school district, which received a small administrative fee, and the community college, which received the larger share to provide the educational program. A group of faculty and staff from the Division visited with staff of these programs, including a visit to a model program at Portland Community College. In the fall of 1999, a small team of High School Completion staff began to design a program that would target 16- to 21-year-olds to complete high school and transition into professional-technical programs at the college. Meanwhile, Karen Johnson, with support from the college administration, approached the Edmonds School District to discuss funding. Years of articulation between the college and the school district paved the way for an agreement that was finalized in the fall of 2000. Thus was born the Edmonds Career Access Program, or EdCAP.

Creating a New Program
The initial thrill of planning a new and vital program wore off quickly. Our first obstacle was funding. The college gave us a small start-up budget that allowed us to hire a part-time instructor and a part-time case manager, so we began slowly with a small number of students and part-time staff. The Department Head and the Literacy Coordinator already had more than full-time responsibilities but were called upon to oversee the infant program.

We began with 12 students who attended a three-day orientation, completed assessments, and registered in September, 2000. We enrolled all the students in a one- credit, required EdCAP Success class, which was designed to help students transition to their college courses; one course in their professional-technical area of interest; and a career exploration course offered through the college. One month later, only nine students remained regularly attending their classes. Our case manager met with students biweekly and noted that several students seemed detached from the program and distracted in their classes. Difficulties outside the classroom interfered with their attendance and became excuses for their failure to complete homework. Students described changing living arrangements, lack of money to pay for daily expenses, lack of sleep, and drug and alcohol use. Faculty in the professional technical programs reported that the EdCAP students were undisciplined, had poor attendance, and exhibited behavior problems. Nevertheless, our office staff was diligently compiling a list of potential students for the next quarter.

We believed that we could make our model work. The EdCAP staff - two part-time faculty, one part-time case manager, the Department Head, and the Director of Literacy Programs - met weekly to discuss reasons for the loss of three of our "pioneers," rehash our curriculum, and debate the best approach for the next quarter. This was the beginning of two years of introspection and revision. Some of this reflection involved formal evaluation using our limited completion data; however, most was anecdotal evidence collected from our classes and advising sessions with our students. Each time we advised students we discovered more about the barriers they faced and their lack of preparation to make the leap to an adult learning environment. We understood that our struggles were a necessary and positive part of the evolution of the program and would help us figure out how we could become a unique and successful entity in the larger community college system. 

Making Changes
As we grappled with ways to retain our students, we began making changes in our required EdCAP Success course and in our advising. Progress reports from faculty in the professional-technical programs indicated that many students were not attending regularly nor were they completing assignments on time. We had hoped that our EdCAP Success course would provide the necessary support for these students, but we found that skills learned in the EdCAP class did not necessarily transfer to college courses outside our "protected" division. A one-credit, one-quarter course was insufficient. We added a required, second-quarter EdCAP class and increased the number of credits for the first-quarter course to three. We then revised our curriculum for our two-quarter sequence of EdCAP courses by including career exploration. The staff agreed that keeping students in a cohort with the same EdCAP instructor for two quarters would result in a stronger network of support and more continuity in instruction. We also decided that, with rare exceptions, all first-quarter EdCAP students would take only courses in the Developmental Education Division rather than attempting courses in a professional-technical area. In this way, students could boost their basic reading and math skills while practicing positive classroom behaviors taught in the EdCAP Success classes. 

Evolution of Edmonds Career Access Program

Because progress reports showed that attendance was a significant factor in whether students were successful, we established strict attendance requirements in the EdCAP Success classes. Our staff worked out the details of a probationary status for students who failed to meet either the attendance or grade point requirements and helped them develop plans to be successful. To handle these additional responsibilities, we hired a full-time case manager who advises students with behavioral and academic concerns. 

We were also challenged in the first two years by a substantial turnover in staff: two part-time case managers and two part-time instructors resigned. Also, in the excitement to launch this new program, processes and procedures had not clearly been established. Although staff attempted to meet weekly, scheduling conflicts often prevented this. When we did meet, we frequently had an agenda that looked more like a "to do" list than the substantial kinds of discussions we had had earlier in the glorious, pie-in-the-sky planning days. Since responsibilities were being crafted as we evolved, we had conversations answering such questions as "Was that my job?" "When did we decide that?" "Why didn't this get done?" And staffing wasn't the only challenge. Space, at a premium on campus, soon became even tighter with the new EdCAP students placing demands on the GED reception area staff. From the initial 12 we had grown in two quarters to more than 60 students and to more than 150 by the end of the second year.

Our unique location created both opportunities and additional hurdles. Because we are part of a community college, our students have access to our high-tech library and computer labs, counseling and support services, and multicultural center. In our EdCAP classes, we incorporated a variety of guest speakers from across campus. Our students were also able to participate in the weekly community college activities, such as campus barbecues and brown-bag lectures. Because we are a large system, the EdCAP staff worked strenuously to communicate the purpose and goals of our programs to faculty who expressed frustration with EdCAP students. Our case manager sends out notices to instructors at the beginning of each quarter to explain EdCAP and to identify students in each faculty member's classes and follows with two progress report forms during the quarter. The case manager communicates frequently with faculty on a case-by-case basis as she hears of students who are having difficulty. We invite faculty from various programs to present information and suggestions to us at EdCAP Department meetings. This work continues. 

Lessons Learned

  • A strong relationship from the start with the local school district was essential.
  • Enthusiasm and desire were not enough. We needed staff and space before we enrolled students.
  • This population of young drop outs required gradual transition into college classes and intensive support. 
  • Curriculum in the EdCAP Success classes needed to include social skills as well as study skills.
  • To be a team we needed clear job descriptions and reasonable expectations.
  • We should have been better prepared for out-of-control growth. 
  • It was inevitable and desirable that the program would change. We had to be willing to give up how we thought the program should look in order to make it work for students. 

Now and the Future
Our principal concern is still retention. We struggle to increase student success and completion. While we are now hovering around 55 percent retention in EdCAP, which is good for this population, we are not satisfied. Too many students fail to attend classes regularly; too many do not do the homework; too many lack support to prevent crises in their lives from interrupting their education. This summer, we discussed ways to promote students' self-esteem and their ability to persist. Some of our staff suggested that we contact a local outdoor education program, Eagle Rock Challenge Course (Mount Vernon, WA) that uses ropes and other obstacle courses to promote personal growth and teamwork. We were able to make the Challenge Course a requirement for the new fall quarter EdCAP students. The instructors of the EdCAP Success classes and the case manager participated with the students and will be involved in follow-up training throughout the year. 

Our staff is finally stable. We have more clearly defined our job descriptions and are successfully emerging as a team. EdCAP faculty met throughout the summer to refine curriculum and began the year with newfound energy and purpose. Our first Challenge Course was well received and returning EdCAP students are asking to be included. As the academic year progresses, our EdCAP Success classes already show signs of improved retention (up from 70 to 90 percent) and we have recruited a member of the math faculty to teach a class designed specifically for EdCAP students.

In spite of all these steps forward, we face new challenges. The Washington State Essential Learning Requirements, our state assessment examination, and a Senior Project will become requirements for high school graduation in 2008. We know that there will be much discussion before 2008 and feel uncertain as we await the onset of these requirements and what they may mean for our students. We are excited about the possibility of developing a senior project that includes service learning - doing a project that provides a service to the community - connected to students' career goals. We believe that this component would give our students a link with the community and a place to practice their professional-technical skills.

We are now in a better position to reflect on our efforts and continue strengthening the program to meet the needs of students. The dynamic nature of this program and its students keeps us moving forward. In times of shrinking budgets, programs such as EdCAP that meet the needs of this specialized community must rise to the occasion.

About the Authors
Roy Alameida teaches EdCAP Success classes. He has worked in secondary and adult education as a teacher and curriculum developer for eight years.

Barbara Haas is the Department Head for High School Completion and EdCAP. She has worked for more than 20 years in both secondary and adult education as a teacher and curriculum specialist.

Barbara Harrell has worked in Adult Literacy as a teacher, advisor, and program coordinator for 10 years.

Karen Johnson is the Dean of Developmental Education. She has more than 20 years experience in developmental education as a teacher, program developer, department head, and administrator.


Evolution of Edmonds Career Access Program


Fall Quarter 2000
(12 students) 

  • 1 credit EdCAP Success Class

  • 2 credit College Career class

  • Prof. Tech. class or prerequisite 

Quick entry into Prof. Tech. field with minimal support.

Fall Quarter 2001
(60 students) 

1st Quarter

  • 3 credit EdCAP Success Class

  • 1 or 2 classes in Dev. Ed. Division

2nd Quarter

  • 2 credit EdCAP Success Class 

More careful advising with students placed in Developmental Education classes and two quarters of EdCAP Success classes.

Fall Quarter 2002
(150 students) 

1st Quarter

  • 4 credit EdCAP Success Class

  • 1 or 2 classes in Dev. Ed. Division

2nd Quarter

  • 2 credit EdCAP Success Class 

Creation of "cohorts" of students and teachers in EdCAP classes over two quarters.
Two quarter EdCAP class sequence loosely integrated to allow student to develop a learning and career plan.

Fall Quarter 2003
(220 students)

1st Quarter

  • 4 credit EdCAP Success Class (Changing to 5 credits in the spring)

  • 1 or 2 classes in Dev. Ed. Division

2nd Quarter

  • 2 credit EdCAP Success Class (Changing to 3 credits in the spring) 

Strengthening of cohort model with additional requirement of Challenge Course for first quarter students. 
Tightly coordinated EdCAP Success curriculum focused on understanding self and developing long and short term personal and educational goals.

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL