A Cross-Case Analysis of Career Pathway Programs that Link Low-Skilled Adults to Family-Sustaining Wage Careers

Publication October 2007

In recent years, access to community colleges has stretched beyond its initial conception in the 1960s when most community college students were traditional-age learners who sought to transfer to a four-year college or pursue career preparation to enter the workforce. Today, nearly half of the nation’s college students enroll in community colleges in which the student body is equally or more diverse than the communities in which they reside, where the average age of students is over 25, where students enroll in non-credit coursework and stop in and out routinely, where the preponderance of students are unemployed or working in low -wage jobs, and where an ever-growing proportion of these students are immigrants and English language learners (ELLs). Recognizing these trends, scholars have argued that community colleges should con-tribute to an equity agenda that enhances educational and economic opportunity for low-skilled learners. Career pathways can serve as a primary means of meeting low-skilled learners’ needs by systematically linking disparate education and training systems using the community college as the nexus for partnerships and program delivery.

Little is known about educational programs referred to as career pathway programs, which attempt to integrate adult literacy, adult basic education (ABE), General Equivalency Diploma (GED) instruction, English language literacy (ELL), and pre-collegiate developmental education with postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) certificate and associate degree programs, and potentially with the baccalaureate degree. By conducting case study research, we sought to provide detailed description of local curricular, instructional and support programs, policies and practices that seek to engage low-skilled adults in adult education and literacy programs that are linked to postsecondary CTE and ultimately to family-sustaining wage employment.

The overarching research question for this study was: What programs, policies, and practices, particularly curricular, institutional and support strategies, are currently being implemented to support the transition of low-skilled adults through career pathways that align with postsecondary CTE? Several sub-questions were posed to investigate program and policy components and implementation strategies and to provide insights into sustainability. It is important to emphasize that this study was designed as a descriptive analysis of career pathway programs. The relative newness of career pathway programs targeting low-skilled adults, the charge from the study’s national advisory panel, and the relatively short timeframe allowed for data collection did not support an outcomes evaluation. Even so, interesting and potentially promising practices are described in this report, providing a baseline for future policy and program development and out-comes evaluation studies.

Bragg, D. D., Bremer, C.D, Castellano, M., Kirby, C., Mavis, A., Schaad, D., & Sunderman, J. (2007). A cross-case analysis of career pathway programs that link low-skilled adults to family-sustaining wage careers. St. Paul, MN: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.

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