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Study Urges Adult, Remedial-Ed. Programs to Join Forces

Study Urges Adult, Remedial-Ed. Programs to Join Forces

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

As key providers of adult and developmental education services, the nation’s community colleges can improve programs for their students by collaborating in those areas where their work and their clients overlap, a culminating report from a two-year study of the programs concludes.

By sharing resources, ideas and solutions, the adult education and the developmental — or remedial — programs that are offered simultaneously at many community colleges, but very often operate separately, can provide more and better opportunities for students to continue their learning, from basic skills classes through a college diploma.

“One of the things we learned from this project is that there is a tremendous amount of potential for collaboration that is not necessarily being exercised,” says Dr. Hunter Boylan, the lead author of the latest report. “Practically every community college in the country has a developmental-education program and a rather substantial number also have adult-education programs. But for the most part they are not talking to each other, they are not working together, and they are not sharing resources.”

According to the report, about half of all first-time community college students take one or more remedial courses. And community colleges serve roughly a third of all adults in basic education programs.

Boylan, who directs the National Center for Developmental Education at Appalachian State University in western North Carolina, says there are a number of reasons for the disconnect. Adult education programs, for example, are often supported by federal funding and guided by rules for serving specific student populations. Even when two-year institutions offer both adult-basic education services and developmental education programs, the divisions were often created at different times, in unrelated administrative departments, he says. Moreover, the programs almost always use different tests for placing students and their curricula are dissimilar, making it difficult to match the needs of a student in one program with the programs and services offered in another.

The report is the eighth and final one in a series published during the last two years by the Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy (CAAL). The New York City-based organization began an in-depth look into the role of community colleges in adult-basic education and developmental education two years ago, hoping to find ways to improve the connections between those programs, thereby enhancing educational opportunities for students. A task force convened by CAAL has been working to gauge the state of affairs of adult-basic education around the nation, and to raise awareness for and strengthen such programs. For the report, the task force relied on survey responses from more than 500 community college administrators, a review of the limited research in the field and site visits to campuses identified as those using innovative practices.

Previous papers in the series included a national analysis of state approaches to adult literacy, as well as case studies from select states, including Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Oregon. A paper released last month studied programs for English learners and the articulation routes between ESL programs and other adult and developmental services at community colleges.

“This has been a sleeper issue for a long time,” says CAAL Vice President and Study Director Forrest Chisman, referring to the potential of adult and developmental programs for preparing more people for skilled jobs. “You can’t meet American work force needs down the road unless you get up the education levels of more adult Americans. That means also moving them on to college, whether to vocational or academic programs, and that means you need more linkages between those two efforts.”

“Forging New Partnerships: Adult and Developmental Education in Community Colleges,” highlights the work of several institutions around the country that have worked to bridge the divide between the programs.

At Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute, for example, the adult and developmental education divisions are housed together on campus and are viewed as legitimate academic programs on the route toward a diploma. Both divisions are headed by academic deans, and they share resources and faculty. Developmental courses are paid out of the college’s general budget, and students can simultaneously enroll in credit and noncredit courses.

Students “are strongly encouraged to transition into credit courses at TVI to continue their learning,” the dean of the department of adult and developmental education told the report’s researchers.

Most noticeable, Boylan says, is the prevailing attitude at TVI that the programs are preparatory and that students are not stigmatized for being in lower-level classes, as they are at some schools.

“They use very positive language in describing these students and programs,” Boylan says. “They don’t describe students in GED programs as high-school dropouts, for instance. These are people who are trying to improve their lot in life, and what they’re doing is described in positive terms.”

Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico, Western Wyoming Community College and Davidson County Community College in North Carolina are also commended for building relationships between the divisions.
CAAL is planning to present its findings from the project at key professional meetings in the coming year.

The report and others in the series, as well as more information on CAAL’s two-year project, are available at

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