Building Bridges Between Adult Basic Education and Developmental Education

Building Bridges Between Adult Basic Education and Developmental Education

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) is committed to supporting community college students and, in turn, strengthening the coordination and alignment between adult education and developmental education programs at community college campuses to better prepare students for the 21st century job market. 

The Supporting Student Success: Adult Education and Remedial Education Reform in Community Colleges initiative is a two-year technical assistance effort intended to support the Administration’s remediation reform goals and the Department of Education’s Strategic Plan.  Over the past year, the Department, in collaboration with the Manhattan Strategy Group, identified successful programs at four community colleges across the United States, to identify examples of alignment between adult and developmental education.

For this weeklong discussion, staff from two of the sites, Dean Tamara Clunis of Amarillo College in Amarillo, Texas, Kaitlyn Kos Transitional Strategies Initiatives Coordinator, Gateway Community College, and Erika Lynch, Workforce Development Coordinator, Gateway Community College in Connecticut, will engage in dialogue with you about their approaches to aligning ABE and Dev ED – what has worked for them, what have been the challenges, and what strategies they recommend.  We are excited to have these two seasoned practitioners who can serve as resources to you. 


Kicking off the discussion, we would like to ask you the question: 

What has been the most challenging for you in terms of alignment between Dev Ed and ABE at your institution? 

Tamara Clunis, Kaitlyn Kos, and Erika Lynch will respond to you and engage in conversation with you over the course of the coming week….


A major challenge for us is the issue of instructor qualifications.  

Adult Basic Education (ABE) instructors are vetted through the Board of Education for the City of New Haven and the Developmental Education instructors are vetted through the Community College Statewide System.  So, instructors interested in teaching in our dual enrollment classes need to be qualified to teach for both systems.  This means a Developmental Education instructor at the college is required to have a Master’s Degree in their content area, while an ABE instructor is required to have a teacher’s certification and a master is any discipline.   So, a math teacher may have the qualifications to teach ABE classes, but not a college course. 

Dear Erica and Tamara:

Thank you so much for kicking off this important discussion.  Erica, you raise quite a quandary and I imagine it is a problem that others in the group share.  Quick question:  Do you find that Developmental Education instructors have/obtain teacher certifications?  Are there strategies that you've found to bridge this gap from each side?

And, I'm wondering about other members of the Postsecondary Completion community.  Is this an issue that you face?  Have you tried/developed strategies to address the issue?

Cynthia Zafft

We are hiring more instructors with teaching certificates. While this reduces the amount of professional development required on the ABE side of the work, we have found that many of these instructors need professional development in adult learning theory and working with underprepared learners. Many states place a high premium on holding a teaching certificate. It is nice to have an instructor that has training in curriculum and lesson plans etc. However, it doesn't mean that they are ready to tackle adult and developmental education in a community college setting.

Our Adult Education providers require all ABE instructors to have a teacher certification.  All individuals interested in teaching a course the college offers have to follow the college hiring guidelines and unfortunately, to date we have not found a way to bridge the gap and resolve the issue between the two systems. 

Our adult education reform project directs colleges (Dev Ed) and adult schools (ABE) to work closely together in consortia.  The issue of credentialing and minimum qualifications between the two systems is an unresolved issue, even though the legislature passes direction to clarify and establish criteria of possible reciprocation (SB173).  In addition to this question of qualifications, there is a related question of compensation.  Instructors are compensated higher in one system, although the work itself is similar.

The issue of instructor qualifications is also a challenge in Texas. However, we do not have agency regulations to the extent that you in your area. I began my work in in adult education with a BA in history and government. In Texas, you only need a BA in any area and you are allowed to teach in an adult education program. For accreditation purposes with SACSCOC, we only require a BA to teach developmental education. Last year we began making the shift to align our ABE hires to the developmental education requirements. This was a hard decision because I know MANY great ABE teachers that do not have the required credentials to teach developmental education. With this shift, I would not be eligible to teach ABE with a degree in history and government.

Curriculum alignment is another challenge in aligning ABE and DE. There is so much overlap in content between the two areas. It doesn't make sense to have these areas operating in isolation. We just completed an alignment project for ABE Math and DE Math. The director of instruction for ABE and the department chair for DE worked to align our math program from arithmetic to STEM and Non-STEM college mathematics. I am proud of the work completed by this team. The operative word here is TEAM. Does anyone else have any experience with addressing curriculum alignment issues?

I'm very happy to see this conversation.  I believe it's critical now as part of the career pathways discussion prompted by WIOA.  ABE and CC's are sort of pushed together in a new and important way.  As a 25+ year Adult Educator, first in a K-12 setting and for the last 16 years in a community college setting, I've seen this topic batted around, but never really tackled.  The ABE teachers and programs in community colleges generally know that they are duplicating content in regards to developmental education.  So, why has this issue not been solved?   I think there are a couple of reasons, two of which have been mentioned:  Curriculum alignment and teacher certification/qualifications.   But another reason is very ABE specific.  In most of the discussions I've seen, the answer is generally to make the ABE teacher faculty.  Because most ABE programs are grant funded and may not be able to afford faculty policies/load procedures/salaries, the ABE folks just stay quiet.  I know that I wouldn't be able to serve half the students in need in my community if I had to make all my teachers ... faculty.  And we already have so many potential students who don't get in.  And they want to be in a college - they want to easily transition.  And how would our CBO organizations or volunteer organizations be able to manage that?  

Seems to me that a solution requires a few things to be true: 1. Serving the needs of learners is the PRIMARY commitment of all parties. 2. The mandate to align ABE and Dev. Ed. is funded consistent with the costs involved. 3. Community Colleges and Local Ed. Agencies suffer financial consequences if they fail to provide full support to the efforts of their staffs. 4. Funding is based on actual progress in creating a coordinated program.

Historically, funding has been - at best - inconsistent and unpredictable. Cooperation between Community Colleges and Local Education Agencies has been minimal to non-existent. And most aggravating, needs and best interests of students was barely considered, if at all.

So, is there any where near the funding needed? Are CC's and LEA's supporting this collaboration from the TOP down? And, are students' needs the primary purpose for any and all these efforts?

Arthur Rubin


An ABE Publishing Company

Amarillo College partners with Frank Phillips College and Clarendon College. The presidents at each of these institutions are very involved in making the connections. The structural set-up of ABE and DE programs has to be considered. I would love to see a study done on where ABE programs are housed within community college systems across the country. I have found that programs that are operated outside of the central academic affairs unit often struggles for meaningful integration. Due to several mentor projects from the Texas Workforce Commission and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, community college systems are receiving technical assistance to structure their programs to support better integration.

Funding has always been an issue. It will continue to be an issue as long as community college systems operate ABE and DE separately. Amarillo College, like many colleges, consider our part-time faculty an important of the instructional team. We have full-time ABE faculty that have all the rights and privileges of institutionally-funded faculty. This is also the case for our part-time ABE faculty. Our ABE faculty are not paid on a separate pay scale. Faculty assigned to teach developmental education may have a split appointment to teach ABE courses. This is possible because of our commitment to curriculum alignment.

With the implementation of WIOA, it is imperative that community college systems move their ABE programs from the margins to the center as it relate to services. It's a missed opportunity not to do so. It is also important that we open our doors to CBO organizations to assist with college transition services. AC has a strong partnership with our local literacy council. We provide them with office and tutoring space. We have done this for almost a decade. 

I'm the director of an adult learning center in New Hampshire where the community college and adult education services are provided through entirely separate systems.  Regionally, we have a strong partnership with our local community college. We've aligned curriculum and improved referrals between the two systems. Adult Education has begun to offer the lowest levels of math and reading Dev Ed on campus, and the community college has stopped offering these classes. Our counselors attend advising sessions on the CC campus. However, we struggle tremendously with the funding issue.  These classes are not eligible for ABE funding, nor are they eligible for financial aid. Low skilled, underemployed students have trouble paying tuition, even though in the long run doing it through adult ed will save them money.  The CC has come up with a scholarship which helps some.  Any others out there structured this way?  Any suggestions? 

We haven't even begun the conversation about contextualization.  If it's hard to do it when the staff are working in different departments; how do you contextualize when the teachers work for different employers? Furthermore, we are a low incidence state, so we don't have the critical numbers to run cohorts of specific training programs concurrently in any one region, let alone have the funds to supply two teachers.

Deanna - Why are these students not eligible for ABE funding? We serve developmental education students with ABE funding as long as the student has a TABE score below 12.9. Many of the developmental education students served in ABE are significantly below 12.9. The majority of our adult education program serves students without a high school equivalency or students enrolled in ESL classes. We serve these students through our college transitions courses or a basic DOS class. We provide these classes free to the student. Our issue is that students want to STAY on the academic side to receive pell grant. Are there other examples of alignment in decentralized programs?

In NH, to be ABE eligible, the TABE score has to be below 8.  However, many dev ed students still qualify.  Some of those who are eligible and can come to the adult learning center to take classes for free do.  Because we are in different towns, however the travel time often makes it difficult for them to take classes on two campuses, in two towns, plus work, family and all the rest.The classes we offer on campus are structured and funded like adult high school courses because we have historically had diploma candidates and graduates who need a prerequisite course for a college program in them and they are more in line with college expectations. They are finite, graded, more structured classes, as opposed our ABE classes which are self paced and individualized.  When we started offering dev ed on the college campus, we kept the tuition model because we'd have had to cut other programs to fund classes at the college.

We faced the Pell grant problem, as well.  Students need a full time load to keep financial aid, which falsely makes it seem that the classes are free. That was one of the main reasons adult ed started running dev ed on campus.  We can do it cheaper, but we still have to pay the teacher and fund core ABE programs.


There are several threads in our discussion but this spot seems the best location to post an upcoming webinar on the ability to benefit provision. Ability to benefit (ATB) is a term used in the context of post-secondary education to refer to students who have sufficient competency to benefit from post-secondary education but do not have a high school diploma or the Certificate of High School Equivalency.  Cynthia

Administration of the Ability to Benefit Provisions under the Higher Education Act

Recently, the Higher Education Act (HEA) was amended to restore the ability to benefit (ATB) provisions, thus allowing individuals without a high school diploma or its recognized equivalent to access Title IV financial aid as long as they are enrolled in an eligible career pathway consistent with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, from 3 to 4:30 p.m. ET, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will hold a webinar on administering the ATB provisions under the HEA. The webinar will share guidance from ED and present strategies for developing and strengthening local career pathway programs. Additionally, postsecondary institutions will share lessons learned and promising practices from ATB program implementation.



To join this webinar, visit


This is my first post to this or any LINCS conversation, and I am really happy to be with you all. I am a former ABE teacher, currently teaching writing and other academic strategies to international grad students while also working on my dissertation research, which looks at the life experiences, academic expectations, and work aspirations of adults in a pre-college transition program. I am really interested in learning more about who these students are and exploring ways to help them build meaningful connections between their lives outside and inside of college, so your conversation is very relevant to me.

I will keep reading!

Hello, Everyone -

I am interested how institutions with both ABE and developmental education programs work to serve learners with disabilities, whether identified or perceived?  What services are there for learners in each program?   How do you address the transition of these learners from ABE to developmental classes?  What are the bridges you would like to see for these learners?

Mike Cruse

Disabilities in Adult Education Moderator


At my institution, learners with disabilities receive the same services whether DE or ABE. ABE students are treated like regular certificate and/or degree seeking students. Faculty advocacy for students in this area is robust and is paying off in the services we are able to offer. The ABE program refers students to the Office of Disability Services (ODS) for accommodations. If there is a concern that a student may be unidentified needs, ABE students are eligible for testing at a local university. The only service they don't have access to at this time is an AC email account. We are working on getting this service for them. 

The gap is in faculty training to serve students with disabilities. 

Hi, Tamara -

Thanks for adding your comments about the services available to both ABE and DE students at your institution.  It is a testament to your programs that students in both ABE and DE courses receive the same level of disability services.  ABE students are also lucky to be in a program where they are eligible for testing at a local university, if there is a concern about unidentified learning needs. 
Unfortunately, I have heard the same comment about the disconnect around faculty training in serving students with disabilities at other institutions.  I wonder if any members reading this may have an example of training that has helped faculty address the needs of this student population?  If you do, please share what has worked for your program with us!


Mike Cruse

Disabilities in Adult Education Moderator

What I am seeing is that students who self-disclose and have documentation fare better than those with undocumented learning disabilities. We have to find ways of getting those students the help that they need, but so many faculty and instructors are not trained in those areas. I have been thinking about ways to help those students get what they need, but it is challenging. 

I can only comment as to what services the community college offers.  Students with documented disabilities register with the Student Accessibility Services office so they can receive academic adjustments in their classes.  Many of these students not only receive the academic adjustments offered by the SAS office but the college itself also offers additional services in the tutoring and writing centers especially geared towards our developmental level courses.  Many of the developmental classes require students to receive tutoring from both offices; it is factored into their grade.      

Hi, Kaitlyn -

Thanks for sharing what your community college offers learners.  I'm interested in the developmental classes that you mention, which require learners to receive tutoring as part of their grade.  Is this only for learners with identified disabilities, or all learners in these developmental classes?  Also, when you say "both offices", are you talking about tutoring and writing centers, or these two, along with some form of support directly from the Student Accessibility Services office?


Mike Cruse

Disabilities in Adult Education Moderator

Hi Mike,

All students in developmental level classes are required tutoring hours weekly; disability or no disability.  By both office I am referring to writing center and tutoring center.  However I should clarify that students in developmental classes typically utilize the tutoring center as the writing center specialize in assisting students who are at college level. 


Hi, Kaitlyn -

Thanks for the clarification.  It sounds like you have built a comprehensive program for your student at all levels.  I wonder how many other institutions have required tutoring for all students in development classes?  If so, does it seem like the small group, or possibly even individualized instruction, provides the support needed for these students to progress into credit courses?  What else besides tutoring have other institutions tried to support students in developmental classes to progress academically at a rate that supports them in not becoming discouraged, and possibly dropping out?



Gateway Community College offers “Boot Camp” courses for our students.  Boot Camps serve as an opportunity for students to refresh their basic skills in math and English, become familiar with the college campus, build confidence in the subject area and will also provide an opportunity for students to re-take the college placement test; the ACCUPLACER.  The college started Boot Camps in response to PA 12-40 which is a public act asking the state to reconfigure remedial and developmental classes.  Students who test into developmental courses are recommended to take a Boot Camp prior to enrolling into the developmental course.  We typically offer the most Boot Camp during the Summer or Winter breaks so students have the chance to take the course before the start of their semester.

The Boot Camps are non-credit and only serve as a prep/refresher course; as long as students persist through they are allowed to re-take the ACCUPLACER and may potentially move up into a higher level course.   A large number of students have taken advantage of this opportunity and we are very lucky that we can offer these courses to students for free as the college receives funding to support the program.  We hope that this is something we can continue to do but as many of you mentioned we never know how long funding will be able to continue.  

Here in Illinois, we didn't have a budget, so we didn't have any funding at all... so a bunch of positions were cut.   (Then the organizations were in trouble -- from the same state that wasn't paying its bills -- because they weren't meeting state standards.)

Some of that funding has been restored, but new hires are hard to get because of the extensive professional development requirements.   We are trying to work more closely at the community college with the adult ed from our tutoring and support center because yes, there's a ton of overlap... 

The biggest challenge that I have faced in working with my community college in Minnesota is the fear that the Dev Ed Instructors have surrounding their job security. They do not wish to partner with ABE in the fear that we are going to "take their jobs." It is very unfortunate because in the end, it's the students who lose. I have made some progress, but a lot of the success (or lack of) depends on who your point-person is at the college. If they are on-board, then it will obviously be easier.

This is such an important topic! We have to abandon the traditional models of teaching developmental and adult basic education separately from workforce training programs. Amarillo College deploys adult basic education instructors to teach basic skills in a host of workforce training certificate programs. ABE teachers are working in our academic credit certified nursing assistant, clinical medical assistant, industrial maintenance, welding, and automotive programs. We recently added business management - hospitality and office administration. When I encounter the fear, I remind them of the opportunities to provide basic skills and supplemental support in these programs. Our developmental education faculty are focused on serving students enrolled in general studies - academic transfer.   Texas has its version of the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) through Accelerate Texas. We should look to Washington State and the Accelerating Opportunity initiative with Jobs for the Future. There is plenty of work to go around IF you contextualize and embed basic skills instruction into workforce training programs. If institutions insist on maintaining decontextualized programs, then the fear may have merit if there are a limited number of instructional slots. There is no need for fear. We need to restructure our delivery systems to support underprepared and minimally prepared students.

I think there is just as much fear on the ABE teacher side.  They are afraid that faculty are more entrenched in the college system (college funded vs grant funded) and that they will take their places.  I agree with you Tamara, that it is a reframing that colleges need to embrace and that there are enough customers for everyone.  So how does it work at Amarillo?  Are they all faculty who report to the same division or dean?  who decides which classes and students are taught by which faculty?  


Since Fall 2015, developmental education and adult education - which includes ESL are located under the same academic dean division. We have a dean and a recently appointed associate dean. It has taken four years to get the current structure in place. In my role, I partner with academic deans in Health Sciences/Nursing, Arts and Science, and Technical Education to build the contextualized integrated career pathways for developmental and adult education students. The developmental education department chairs or program coordinators work collaboratively with the director of instruction for adult education to assign faculty to classes whether developmental education or ABE. Right now, the majority of our ABE faculty are teaching either basic skills courses, college transition, or integrated support courses for workforce certificates. We are in the process of scaling the model operating at our largest campus to four other campuses over the next year. Our DE and ABE faculty participate in joint professional development activities. It is not a requirement to have a centralized system. However, for AC it has made a huge difference in student success and accelerated time to completion.

Thank you again for participating in this discussion - we will be hosting a webinar next week to discuss Contextualization- check out more information here: 

Thanks in advance for your participation!!!

On April 13, 2017, from 1-2 p.m. (ET), the U.S. Department of Education’s Supporting Student Success project team will host a webinar titled Supporting Student Success: The Hybrid Approach. The one-hour webinar will feature St. Louis Community College’s Adult Learning Academy (ALA). The ALA is an innovative approach to developmental education which integrates all promising practices identified by the Supporting Student Success project – acceleration, contextualization, and student support.

Registration for this event is required. Join us here:

The Supporting Student Success project disseminates successful strategies in promoting student success in Adult Education and Developmental Education programming. This is the third of four webinars. Each webinar highlights a different promising approach to program design – contextualizationaccelerationstudent support, and a hybrid design model. The webinars feature community colleges implementing these practices, which are aimed at increasing the college transition and completion rates of lower-skilled learners at their institutions.

All webinars will be recorded and available for later viewing in the LINCS Community Postsecondary Completion group.

Future Supporting Student Success webinars will be held on the following dates:

  • Supporting Student Success: Supporting the Whole Student – May 9, 2017, at 2 p.m. (ET)

For more on this project and related topics, check out these earlier discussions/webinars available in the LINCS Community: