IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Career Pathways Programming in Adult Education Programs: What We are Learning from Three Cities

As part of our series recognizing the IES investment in Career and Technical Education (CTE) research, we interviewed Esther Prins, Professor at Pennsylvania State University, about her NCER-funded project, Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants: A Comparative Analysis of Adult Education Providers in High-Need Cities.  This Researcher-Practitioner Partnership involves researchers at Pennsylvania State University working in collaboration with adult education providers in Chicago, Houston, and Miami to better understand how adult education programs are incorporating career pathways into their delivery models.

What is the education issue you and your partners trying to address?

Millions of U.S. adults have been left behind by the economy and rising education requirements for even minimum-wage jobs. Career pathway (CP) programs help adults prepare for employment and postsecondary education. Although recent federal policy (e.g., WIOA) has encouraged CP programming among adult education providers, there is little research to help guide practice and few opportunities for providers to learn about how their peers organize CP programs, who they serve, what outcomes they measure, and other program features.

What are career pathway programs in adult education?

CP programs develop adults’ basic math, reading, and English language skills, while concurrently preparing them to enter postsecondary education or jobs in specific fields like healthcare or manufacturing. These programs can be run through many kinds of institutions, including community colleges, workforce development organizations, and community-based organizations. The adults seeking CP classes may vary in their skill levels, but our project focused on the adults with greatest barriers to education and employment: those who did not graduate from high school or who have low math, reading, or English language scores.

What are some of the specific concerns your practitioner partners have?

Some practitioners are concerned that requirements programs must meet may unintentionally reward programs for enrolling higher-level students—the ones who are most likely to find a job or enroll in college—rather than serving students with the greatest need. They also want to know about what non-academic supports programs may need to provide, so we are exploring the role of wraparound support services. These are important because many adult learners experience poverty and related challenges such as transportation, childcare, housing, and financial instability.

What are some of the major findings thus far?

First, CP programming is widespread: more than 90% of the surveyed organizations offered or were developing CP classes in 2015. However, there are no shared program outcome measures, and this hinders comparison and documentation of programs’ collective impact. Coordination within cities primarily occurs on a small scale between a subset of organizations; citywide coordination across organizations and funding streams is less common.

Second, the majority of CP classes require students to meet minimum entry requirements such as passing a reading, math, or language test and/or possessing a high school degree. These requirements limit access for adults with the greatest barriers. To address these issues, programs are trying different options. For example, some programs offered multiple entry points (e.g., bridge classes) to enable adults with skills gaps to advance from lower-level to higher-level CP classes.

Third, agencies offer a variety of wraparound support services to meet students’ non-academic needs. Some programs bundle support services, meaning they require participation in at least two support services. These include screening for income supports and access to financial services, financial coaching and literacy, and job coaching.

The report on the survey is available online.

 

How are the findings being used?

Building on the findings from this study, the Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition formed a group of 13 adult education providers to staff a Career Navigator at their local American Jobs Center to address issues such as forming shared program metrics, helping adults with lower skills, and connecting adults to support services available at the American Jobs Center. 

What other issues need to be studied?

Practitioners are interested in better understanding the long-term effects and trajectories of students in CP programs. For example, they’d like to know more about postsecondary and employment outcomes and whether certain individual characteristics, program supports, or instructional approaches lead to better outcomes. Additional research could help shed light on these issues.

Meredith Larson, NCER Program Officer, interviewed Esther Prins 

The figures above are from an infographic prepared by the research team and summarize the data gathered by the team.

Family, Work, and Education: The Balancing Act of Millions of U.S. Adults

For U.S. adults with low skills or low academic attainment, finding the time or resources to go back to school can be difficult because of family and work obligations. Recently released NCES tables from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) give us a clearer sense of how many adults face this challenge. With this information, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers can better understand and meet the education and training needs of working adults and parents.

How large is the concern?

Previous PIAAC analyses found that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults score at the lowest levels of literacy, nearly 30 percent score at the lowest levels of numeracy, 14 percent of U.S. adults have less than a high school diploma, and 27 percent have no more than a high school diploma or equivalent. But how many of these adults have family or work responsibilities that may complicate their participation in education?

According to the new NCES tables, millions of adults have low skills or low attainment and family or work obligations that may complicate participation in education or training.

  • Of the over 40 million adults at the lowest levels of literacy, nearly 56 percent are employed, 77 percent have children, and 44 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 63 million adults at the lowest levels of numeracy, nearly 56 percent are employed, 74 percent have children, and 42 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 31 million adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent, nearly 49 percent are employed, 58 percent have children, and 32 percent are both employed and have children.
  • Of the nearly 58 million adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent, approximately 64 percent are employed, 71 percent have children, and 45 percent are both employed and have children.

What do we know about how to serve adults with family or work obligations?

Currently, the research on improving outcomes for adults with low skills or low attainment is limited, and less is known on how to help such adults who have family or work obligations.

Examples of questions facing policymakers, practitioners, and researchers include:

  • How do current education and training programs benefit working adults or parents?
  • Are work or family obligations barriers, motivational factors, or both?
  • Are multi-generational approaches (e.g., those that combine postsecondary or adult education services with Head Start or early childhood education) able to improve the academic outcomes of adults and the children they care for?
  • Are the assessments used appropriate for adults?

IES offers opportunities for researchers to conduct this sort of work through its Postsecondary and Adult Education topic and disseminate information about promising practices. For more information about funding opportunities for such research, contact Dr. Meredith Larson.

About the PIAAC

The PIAAC is an international assessment for adults that assesses cognitive skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) and contains data on educational background, workplace experiences and skills, and other items. For the purposes of this blog, the category of lowest levels is defined as Below Level 1 and Level 1.

 

By Meredith Larson, NCER Program Officer

 

CTE Statistics: New Information on How Adults Prepare for Work

By Lisa Hudson

Education provides students with the knowledge and skills needed to be informed citizens, productive workers, and responsible community members. Meeting one of these goals—preparing students for work—is the main goal of career and technical education (CTE, formerly known as vocational education). To monitor CTE in the United States, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) produces a comprehensive set of statistical data on CTE at the secondary and postsecondary levels, as well as on adult preparation for work. These statistics, and related reports, are available on the CTE Statistics website.

NCES recently released data related to preparation for work, which was collected as part of the 2016 Adult Education and Training Survey (ATES).  The ATES asked a nationally-representative sample of adults about their attainment of two often-overlooked work credentials—licenses and certifications—and about their completion of work experience programs (such as internships and apprenticeships).  The survey also examined the role of education in helping adults attain these credentials and complete these programs.

The data show that 21 percent of adults have a currently active license or certification, with 18 percent reporting they have a license and 6 percent reporting they have a certification (some adults have both). Additionally, completion of degree programs is related to the attainment of these work credentials. For example, having a certification or license is more common among adults who have a college degree than among adults with lower levels of education (see figure).  In addition, about two-thirds of the adults who have completed a certification or licensing program (67 percent) did so in conjunction with coursetaking after high school.



Findings are similar for work experience programs. Overall, 21 percent of adults have completed a work experience program, and 14 percent of adults have completed a work experience program that was part of an educational program after high school.

Finally, the ATES showed that work credentials and work experience programs are particularly common in the health care field. In fact, health care was the most common field in which both licenses and certifications were held (31 percent of credentialed adults), and the most common field in which adults had completed a work experience program (26 percent of program completers) .

The information discussed in this blog is drawn from the ATES “First Look” report. The CTE Statistics website also includes a summary of these key findings, and within the next year additional ATES statistics will be added to the website.  To sign up for automatic email notifications on when new material is added to the CTE Statistics website, visit the IES newsflash (under National Center for Education Statistics, check the box for “Adult and Career Education”).  We look forward to sharing future results with you!

New Data Explore Adults’ Nondegree Credentials

By Lisa Hudson

Despite a national interest in nondegree credentials—such as postsecondary certificates, occupational certifications, and occupational licenses—there hasn’t been comprehensive, national data on these programs. However, a new report from NCES fills this gap using data from our new Adult Training and Education Survey (ATES).

These data show that 27 percent of adults have a nondegree credential and that 21 percent have completed a work experience program (such as an apprenticeship or internship). The ATES data also show that the completion of degree programs and nondegree programs are related. For example, having a certification or license is more common among adults who have a college degree than among adults with lower levels of education.  

The ATES is one component of the NCES National Household Education Surveys Program (NHES), which collects information on education-related topics that cannot be addressed through school-based surveys. It includes a suite of surveys designed to capture data related to learning at all ages. This most recent NHES administration, conducted from January to September 2016, was the first administration of the ATES. This survey was completed by a national sample of about 47,700 adults between the ages of 16 and 65.

The data show that nondegree credentialing and work experience programs are particularly common in the health care field. In fact, health care was the most common field in which both certifications and licenses were held, and the most common field for which adults had completed a work experience program.

The ATES also found that adults perceive nondegree credentials to be useful for many labor market outcomes. For example, 82 percent of adults who have a certification or license reported that it was very useful for “getting a job”, 81 percent reported that it was very useful for “keeping you marketable to employers or clients”, and 66 percent reported it that was very useful for “improving your work skills” (see figure). 

The ATES data will be available to researchers in the coming months. Check the NHES website for updates.

Teach a Researcher to Fish: Training to Build Capacity for IES Data Analysis

The Institute of Education Sciences is pleased to announce upcoming training opportunities to help researchers study the state of adult skills and competencies. Training Researchers to Use PIAAC to Further Multidisciplinary Research is a hands-on, interactive training to build the field’s capacity for conducting research using data from the OECD Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC).

Picture of students participating in trainingThe training, conducted by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), aims to teach researchers how to use IES data and data tools for further, independent research beyond the training so that they can meet the emerging needs of policymakers and practitioners needs for years to come.

This program is an example of the various ways that IES is building the evidence base in education. The training is supported by a Methods Research Training grant from the National Center for Education Research. It uses PIAAC data, which in the U.S. were collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The training also uses data tools that are available through NCES.

Beginning this August, ETS is holding 3-day and 1-day PIAAC trainings in cities throughout the U.S. These trainings will bring together researchers from various organizations and institutions to learn not only about the data and tools but also about how to use them to address important questions about policy-related research from a wide host of fields including education, gerontology, sociology, public health, economics, workforce development, and criminal justice and corrections education. These trainings will culminate with an IES/ETS-sponsored conference in Washington, D.C. in December 2018, during which participants will have an opportunity to present their research.

Who is Eligible?

Researchers from universities, research firms, or other organizations (e.g., advocacy groups, local governments) and who have a doctoral degree or are graduate students in a doctoral programs, experience with statistical packages (e.g., SAS, SPSS) and with secondary data analysis, and an interest in adult learning, skills, and competencies.

What Does it Cost?

The training itself is free for participants, and participants who are U.S. citizens or U.S. permanent residents will receive assistance to cover housing and per diem during the training. Visit the training website for more information about possible finical assistance.

When is the Training? How do I Apply?

The training will take place several times in the coming months:

  • August 30-Sept. 1, 2017 in Chicago;
  • October 2-4, 2017 in Atlanta; 
  • December 4-6, 2017 in Houston;
  • April 13, 2018 in New York City (at the AERA Annual Conference)
  • Culminating Conference: December 1-3, 2018, in Washington, DC

Visit the ETS training website for more information about the program and the most up-to-date schedule. Registration is open and can be completed online.

Written by Meredith Larson, Program Officer, National Center for Education Research