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IES Grant

Title: Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants: A Comparative Analysis of Adult Education Providers in High-Need Cities
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Prins, Esther Awardee: Pennsylvania State University
Program: Researcher-Practitioner Partnerships in Education Research      [Program Details]
Award Period: 2 years (8/17/15-8/16/17) Award Amount: $399,708
Type: Researcher-Practitioner Partnership Award Number: R305H150047

Co-Principal Investigators: Clymer, Carol; Foreman Elder, Sheri; Needle, Mark; Raymond, Rebecca

Partner Institutions: Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition, Houston Center for Literacy, Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy at the Pennsylvania State University, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Purpose: Many adult education providers seek to develop career pathway programs that build low-skilled adult learners' core skills (e.g., math, reading) in preparation for specific careers or fields (e.g., health care). In this project, representatives of adult education programs in Chicago, Miami, and Houston worked with researchers to describe how providers in each city integrate career pathway components into their services. Whereas most other studies on career pathways (CPs) have focused on community colleges and organizations serving adults with at least a high school degree, this study focused on adult education agencies that serve immigrants, adults with lower levels of education, and adults who face other barriers to education and employment.

Partnership and Research Activities: During this project, the city partners and researchers collaborated on mixed-methods research relevant to all sites. They collected survey data from adult education programs in each city and conduct focus groups and case studies to identify the key features of adult education career pathways programs (e.g., student characteristics, program design and delivery, data collection systems and outcome measures used). These studies occurred in phases: a survey of adult education providers in each city (n=147; 72 percent response rate); focus groups with adult education providers in each city (n=18); and case studies of 6 successful programs (2 per city). They used this work to inform local activities as well as understand the broader landscape of CP programming in major cities.

Population: Chicago, Houston, and Miami are large, urban communities with a disproportionate percentage of non-native English speakers, adults who struggle with literacy and numeracy, and families in poverty.

Key Outcomes: The main findings from this descriptive study include —

  • CP programming is widespread: 83 percent of the organizations offered CP classes and 11 percent were developing them in 2014–2015.
  • The features of CP varied within and across cities, including provider types, services offered, instructional approaches, entry requirements, audiences served, funding sources, and types of partnerships, among others.
  • The most common employment sectors were education, child development, and family services (44 percent); health and medical technology (38 percent); and information technology (30 percent).
  • Agencies served a wide range of students, particularly unemployed or underemployed persons (90 percent), adults who struggle with basic skills (89 percent), and immigrants or non-native English speakers (87 percent).
  • CP students were disproportionately women, foreign-born adults, and adults with economic vulnerabilities and limited education.

Project Website:

Products and Publications

Inside IES Research Blog Post

Career Pathways Programming in Adult Education Programs: What We Are Learning From Three Cities (2018)

Journal Publications

Prins, E., and Clymer, C. (2018). Career Pathways in Chicago, Houston, and Miami: Key Features and Support Services Among Adult Education Providers. The COABE Journal. Special Edition featuring Career Pathways, pp. 28–51.


Prins, E., Clymer, C., Foreman, S. S., Needle, M., Raymond, B., and Toso, B. W. (2018). Career Pathways Programming for Adult Learners in Three U.S. Cities. Adult Education Research. Full text

Nongovernment report, issue brief, or practice guide

Prins, E., Clymer, C., Toso, B. W., Elder, S. F., Loa, M., Needle, M. Raymond, B., and Ziskind, A. (2017). Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants: Report on Survey Findings. University Park, PA: Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy.

Prins, E., Clymer, C., Foreman, S. S., Loa, M., Needle, M., Raymond, B., Toso, B. W., and Ziskind, A. (2018). Career Pathways for Adult Learners in Chicago, Houston, and Miami: Final Report. University Park, PA: Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy. Full text