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Focus On Basics

Volume 6, Issue D ::: February 04

Approaches to ABE Transition to Postsecondary Education

by Judith A. Alamprese
Adult basic education (ABE) programs increasingly are being viewed as a bridge to the next destination rather than a student's final stopping place in education. A variety of factors are prompting the development of activities to assist adults enrolled in ABE, English as a second language (ESL), and General Educational Development (GED) instruction to enter postsecondary education. ABE staff, particularly those in community colleges, recognize the resources their institutions offer learners in developing their skills and knowledge so that they can access better opportunities in the labor market.To assist learners in accessing these resources, ABE staff are enhancing instruction and identifying support services to enable learners to enroll in college-credit courses. State adult education offices also are encouraging ABE programs to work with admissions and counseling offices in community colleges to orient learners to the requirements of postsecondary education. 

National initiatives, such as the Nellie Mae Education Foundation's ABE to College Transition project, are supporting ABE programs in developing services to help students be prepared to succeed in college. The challenges these efforts face are to identify adults whose skills and life circumstance allow them to participate in postsecondary skill training or academic courses successfully, and to develop coordinated services that can prepare and support adult learners in making a successful transition to undergraduate education.

State of Transition Activities 
Transition activities represent an emerging area of service in adult basic education. Several efforts are underway to describe practices and learner outcomes as an initial step in developing robust research on this topic. For example, as the linkages between ABE program and community college enrollment data are improved, programs and states are better able to determine the patterns of ABE student enrollment in college courses. In Oregon and Idaho, state policymakers track the enrollment of ABE students in college courses and encourage their ABE grantees to promote postsecondary participation. ABE programs supported by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation are collecting data on the outcomes of adults participating in their transition services in an effort to document, understand, and evaluate the results of these activities.i Abt Associates Inc.ii is documenting emerging practices in its study on ABE Transition to Postsecondary Education, which includes transition activities undertaken by community colleges, school districts, and community-based organizations. Two other studies are focused on the role of the community college in ABE transition. The Council for the Advancement of Adult Literacy is investigating ways of strengthening the community college role in adult education, and Berkley Policy Associatesiii is conducting a project entitled Adult Basic Education - Community College Transitions. As models of service become better defined and data about learner outcomes from these services become available, the stage will be set for a scientific test of the effects of ABE transition activities. 

Approaches to Transition
Comprehensive information about the variety of current ABE transition activities is not available. However, an understanding is emerging from descriptions of the Nellie Mae-funded and other transition programs as well as from other research underway. Activities in ABE transition range from orientation and advising about the opportunities and requirements for postsecondary participation to multi-component programs designed to place students in community college credit classes (see the chart on pages 28-29 for descriptions of a variety of models). Although the audiences for transition activities tend to be adults in GED and high-level ESL classes as well as learners who have completed their GED, some ABE programs also provide awareness information on postsecondary opportunities to adults receiving high-level ABE instruction.

The development of transition activities moves ahead in stages. ABE staff try new strategies, test them with groups of learners, and then refine them based on learners' reactions and the availability of new information. Sometimes a model is provided to staff to use in organizing services, as with Nellie Mae's ABE to College Transition Project. In this case, the New England Literacy Resource Center (NELRC), which manages the project, asks grantees to follow a multi-component framework in developing transition activities as part of the demonstration. Regardless of the approach, the early lessons from designing and implementing services can be helpful in building models that can then be systematically evaluated.

Types of Approaches
The approaches that ABE programs are using in developing activities to transition learners to postsecondary education can be categorized into three types: awareness and orientation activities, counseling and referral activities, and comprehensive transition programs.

Awareness and orientation activities usually involve the dissemination of information regarding the college admissions and registration processes, financial aid, and college placement examinations. These activities can help orient learners to the requirements for admission into postsecondary programs, provide them with practice in completing forms, and assist them in obtaining financial and other support. Some ABE programs, particularly those in community colleges, work with the admissions and financial aid offices in their institutions to schedule orientation sessions with GED classes as learners near completion of the program. ABE staff also may arrange for individual meetings between the admissions and financial aid staff and adult learners so that learners can receive personalized attention. In some instances, ABE staff have integrated information about college requirements, forms completion, and financial aid into ABE classes. This dissemination of information about postsecondary application and entrance requirements is considered an initial and crucial process in preparing learners for transitioning to further study.

Counseling and referral activities for learners who are interested in pursuing postsecondary education can be organized in a variety of ways. The emphasis is on offering learners individualized assistance in understanding the requirements for postsecondary participation, determining whether their life's activities make their participation feasible, providing encouragement, and identifying areas in which learners need to strengthen their skills in order to qualify for admission to college. Some ABE programs have integrated these activities into their usual services, while others have established relationships with internal institutional departments, such as community college counseling and tutoring offices, and refer learners to these services. Sometime ABE programs work with external service providers who offer these types of assistance, to which they refer learners.

In the comprehensive program model, ABE programs provide a multi-component set of services to prepare learners for entrance into postsecondary education, including orientation, advising, study skills and time management, and academic preparation. These are often organized as self-contained services that operate over a few weeks. Academic preparation is the critical component in these programs. The goal often is to assist learners both in being admitted into postsecondary classes and in completing an entire course. 

The design of these approaches is based on ABE and community college staffs' experience in working with adult learners and in identifying the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to succeed in postsecondary education. As these approaches are refined further and data are collected about their effectiveness, the field of adult basic education will have better resources and tools to use in providing effective transition services for adult learners. 

i  The Nellie Mae Foundation funds the New England Literacy Resource Center, which is housed at World Education (home of NCSALL's dissemination activities and Focus on Basics), to coordinate and provide technical assistance to many of the transition programs funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. 

ii  Abt Associates' study is funded by the US Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education. 

iii  Berkeley Policy Associates' project is funded by the US Department of Education's Office of Vocational and Adult Education. 

About the Author 
Judith A. Alamprese, a Principal Associate at Abt Associates Inc., has more than 25 years of experience directing research, evaluation, and policy projects in adult literacy and workforce development. She currently is investigating methods for improving adults' decoding skills and is developing a model for interagency coordination and leadership among state adult education policymakers.

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