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Focus On Basics

Volume 6, Issue D ::: February 04


Few would debate the value of postsecondary education, especially for General Educational Development (GED) credential holders and high-level students of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) who have high school diplomas. Making it happen is the challenge. The sad truth is that many adult basic education (ABE) students don't perceive of college as a place for them. Being an older than average student, often with family responsibilities, creates a social barrier. Those who do enroll often find that their academic skills, while sufficient to pass the GED, or their English skills, while fine for daily life, need strengthening before they can place into courses in which they can earn credits towards graduation. And the cost of college and correlated lost wages is an ever growing - perhaps the greatest - barrier to enrolling or persisting in postsecondary education. Nonetheless, college remains the key to economic opportunity for all students.

It is encouraging, therefore, to find a growing number of ABE providers adding what we call "transition" programs designed to encourage students to enroll and enable them to persist in postsecondary education. These programs usually partner in some way with postsecondary institutions, providing counseling and academic services tailored to the needs of ABE students who are college-bound or enrolled in college. Focus on Basics talked to NCSALL researcher John Tyler about why college is such an economic necessity: that interview begins here. For an overview of the growing transition movement and a snapshot of different program models, turn to the article by Judy Alamprese and chart by Jessica Spohn and Silja Kallenbach

A strong program design is important for a successful transition program, but it is relationships that make it work, found Jeanne Belisle Lombardo and her colleagues at Rio Salado College in Arizona. She describes this in our cover story.

Those responsible for strengthening students' academic skills - which is a component in all transition programs - will find Maricel G. Stantos' research on the academic vocabulary skills needed by language minority students useful. Another stumbling block for students aspiring to college is math, and algebra in particular. A team of ABE math experts from around the country talked with Focus on Basics about why math poses such a problem and what to do about it.

Not all transition programs are young, and not all are additions to existing ABE programs. Massachusetts' ODWIN center was established specifically to enable adults who had career aspirations that depended upon postsecondary schooling to fulfill their dreams. Director Mary Tacelli writes about the origins and current face of the program that has helped about 3000 students succeed in college since its inception in 1964. 

Rhode Island's Dorcas Place staff found that not all ABE and ESOL students have postsecondary aspirations. Introducing students to college as a place for them is an important part of that program, as is building a sense of cohort among students as they make the transition to college. Brenda Dann-Messier and Eva I. Kampits describe the program in their article.

Even with the best intentions, getting a transition program up and running smoothly and effectively is not easy. Click here to read a candid account of the glitches and snags the staff at the transition program at Edmonds Community College in Washington faced in establishing their program, and how they addressed them.

Why are transition programs so important? If students place into remedial courses, as they too often do, the already daunting costs of postsecondary education rise. World Education's Deepa Rao writes insightfully about this issue. Heed her suggestions, find a postsecondary partner, and develop an effective, flexible transition program for your students.


Barbara Garner

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