Intensive Skill and College Readiness Programs at Community Colleges

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. 

Supporting Student Success: Adult Education and Remedial Education Reform in ​Community Colleges 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 week​-​long discussion, staff from two of the sites, Kaitlyn Kos Transitional Strategies Initiatives Coordinator, Gateway Community College, and Matthew Favre, Instructor at the Adult Learning Academy, St. Louis Community College, will share their knowledge and expertise with you.

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

​"What has been the most challenging in terms of providing intensive skills instruction for ABE and Dev Ed students at your organization?​
Matthew Favre and Kaitlyn Kos will respond to you and engage in conversation with you over the course of the coming week.


Our program at Gateway Community College faces many challenges with participating students.  As we all know, it starts with acknowledging the multiple levels students are coming in at.  For example, we have students who just graduated high school, students have been incarcerated and are now returning to school, and students who have been away from school for 20 years or more and the common theme is all have barriers to their education.  One major challenge I face with students in my program is the struggle with their schooling and their outside obligations.  Many of our students while they are invested in school are not in a situation where they can take time off work to commit to class or they do not have the resources to assist with childcare or transportation.  These students will start the program with the plan to balance all their obligations however we see attendance issues regularly.  It is as simple as student will not come to class because they were called into work and they need the job so they can buy a bus pass to get to class; so when the opportunity to work more is offered students will choose that over class.  This in turn results in them missing instruction time which they need to remediate their skills appropriately to be successful in the program.   

Hi Kaitlyn:

Thank you so much for starting this discussion.  I wonder if you might discuss some of the ways you are able to address the challenges you've mentioned -- especially the school-life balance.

And, I was wondering about connecting to students before they arrive.  For example, the New Haven Adult Education Center has a transition program offered in partnership with Gateway Community College.  I think group members would be interested in knowing about outreach efforts to connect potential students to important "success" efforts at the college.

Cynthia Zafft

Postsecondary Completion Moderator

In regards to the Boot Camp program we have created multiple models to try to meet the needs of as many students as possible.  For example, the program is typically 3 weeks, 5 days a week.  We have added additional models where students meet 3 days a week for roughly for 5 weeks or 6 weeks.  This has been preferred by student who are also working full time jobs and helps those student who may be able to find childcare for 3 days rather than a whole week.  We also offer an online program.  As Mat mentioned Gateway also uses an “intrusive” advising method with students interested in the program.  The program coordinator meets with students before the start the program and then checks on them multiple as they progress throughout the course, this may be weekly or even multiple times a week.  The coordinator works with them to discuss obstacles about work/school conflicts and even assists in guiding the student with how to approach their boss about asking for changes to their schedule so they can attend class. Then once the student complete they course they also receive one-on-one advising. 

As you mentioned Cynthia – Gateway also offers a transition program with NHAE.  This program allows students who are enrolled in the adult education center to also enroll in one of our college courses; typically remedial math or English.  These courses are offered at the adult education center but provides an opportunity for students to learn and understand the expectations of a college student.  Students are also taught study skills and advised by counselors on how to be successful in college.     

Once the course is completed the students are done with the Boot Camp and will move to the appropriate class. The college uses the ACCUPLACER placement test and multiple measures to determine appropriate placement.  Boot Camp are not repeatable. There are students who will complete the program and move on to a college level coursework.  The program however was designed to match our developmental level courses.  There are two developmental level courses for math and English.  The first level is 6 credits while the 2nd course is 3 credits.  Typically we see around 70% of the students who complete the math and English Boot Camp move from the 6 credit class to the 3 credit class and about 20% of those students may go higher.  

While reading these comments I can best answer this in relation to The College Prep Program at Austin Community College identifying program awareness as an evolving issue. Students do not always go searching for programs like a Boot Camp or like some of the other programs we have mentioned so the best thing you can have is buy in of the program from your institution. I have worked extensively with our testing office, counseling office, admission office, and registrar office to keep them informed about the Boot Camps.  They are my some of my biggest tools in assistance for recruitment and getting the word out there.  Getting those offices, faculty and staff members to see the importance of programing like this has made a huge impact on the programs success. 

I agree with your observations about adult students. The real challenge is showing them the value of working on their studies prior to enrolling in class. Our program offers an online access to start the student at a level determined by a math and English assessment for their current skills. Emphasizing to students the importance of working on their skills is paramount to their success in college. We also stress study skills and making time either online or in the classroom with our program to prepare for their college entrance assessment. Our program has about 50 percent of the students who adequately prepare for their college assessment. Any ideas about developing students motivation for preparing to take the college assessment?

We have definitely experienced the same issues with students' lack of interest in taking the college assessment (in Texas, it is the "TSI").   Many times, students do not even understand why they must take this assessment, when they already earned a GED or HSD.  I have found that showing them how many courses they may have to take in the developmental sequence, along with how much time and money will be involved often works as a strong motivator.  We also have student mentors (our former students who have graduated our program and are now in college) who visit the program and speak with students about why prepping for TSI is so important. Sometimes, hearing it from other students works wonders that our staff cannot...

We've also found that the actual scheduling of the testing impacts students' perception of it as well.  Our students take the assessment twice: once at the beginning of the program (for baseline) and then again at the end (to measure progress), and we pay for the test for students both times.  Even though the worry of paying for the TSI has been removed, students are still understandably unnerved by the assessment, and we've come up with a way to address this problem that, so far, seems to be working: We offer them testing sessions over multiple days at different times (such as Tuesday morning and/or evening, Wednesday morning and/or evening, all day Friday, and Saturday morning), and we encourage students to take each subject separately. Rather than trying to cram in 5 hours of testing on one day, students sign up for reading on one day, math on another day, and writing on yet another day.   

We also now offer them the opportunity to earn more free tests by attending tutoring sessions after they complete our program.  They get one free test for every 3-hour tutoring session they attend (and can keep testing as long as our budget allows!).  Knowing that they have multiple opportunities to take the assessment and "pass" it takes the pressure off, and students perform better because they see it as just practice for the next try.

Our test is computer-based, and we have a fantastic Assessment Center willing to work with us to offer so many testing options, so it's not a solution for everyone, but it really does seem to be helping our students achieve better results--and just to have a better attitude toward the assessment overall...   

Good morning,

Our program, the Adult Learning Academy, uses a couple primary methods for approaching attendance-related issues: the first is intrusive advising. Our advisor--a career pathways coach--meets with students before enrolling to create a blueprint, which includes a conversation about barriers--anything that might interfere with success. Then once enrolled, if attendance (or anything else) begins to slow progress, faculty will refer the student to the coach to see if a solution presents.

The second method is building in flexibility. The ALA is flexibly paced, which means time to complete varies by student. If a student misses a day, that student can either work from home, come in on an off day, add extra hours the next scheduled day, or simply pick up where he/she left off. If a student needs to miss, say, two weeks, we'll stop them out until they are ready/able to commit to intensive study. They'll pick up where they left off unless the time away is enough to warrant a review of material before beginning again.

In short, we try to identify barriers to success early and often, and we design the curriculum knowing adults will need to miss time!


We begin a new cohort of students biweekly. Years ago, we allowed students to be added to the course whenever they were ready, but that model fell apart with increasing numbers! Biweekly enrollment allows us to get each cohort up and running and familiar with curriculum navigation before a new group begins. It helps that our model is self-directed--students work through material at varying speeds anyway. Group instruction takes place when we either find a few students who are at the same place in the curriculum or when we know enough of them need the same supportive exercises (we can always find a small group who can benefit from a combining sentences lesson, for example). The only built-in, scheduled group work is the first day, orientation.

I like the career coaching element. I am currently teaching a developmental education course that is a co-required enrollment with an English 101 course. Students can move through the required courses quicker but have the instructional support of a dev. ed. course. My students are mid-way through their first semester and they are discovering, more than the rigor of college, they need  a clearly defined career goal. One student has already changed her area of study, another student is  undecided. Both of these students are loosing motivation for partiicipation as they don't  have a clear goal. Connecting students to career coaching helps keep the student connecting their adacemic process to their goals. Can you share your blueprint? Do students revisit it often? Do other support staff members know about the specific student's blueprint?

Thanks for sharing.

Kathy Tracey 

We do have a copy of an older blueprint available through Here's a link: It's from an earlier grant (MoHealthWINs), but it is quite similar to the one currently used. Staff do have access to the blueprints, but we share career pathway information in a number of ways. We also share with faculty basic information like the pathway, expected start dates, and academic background when helpful.

One of the tasks for our new student registration workshop (basically the first thing students attend after meeting the career pathways coach) is for students to save their blueprint to their cloud storage, giving them permanent access.

I think for us (The College Prep Program at Austin Community College), our greatest challenge has been increasing awareness of our program—both within the community and on campus. Our institution has over 40,000 students, 11 campuses, and thousands of program offerings.  Because our institution is so large, it’s always a challenge to get information about our program to stick in the minds of advisers and counselors. 

Having said that, though, our marketing strategies have definitely improved over time. We’ve been able to secure the help of our college’s Marketing department, which lead to the creation of our website and several news stories on our college’s homepage.  We’ve also attended advising forums to reach out to advisors and counselors, sent out hundreds of flyers, hosted information sessions, and attended many, many meetings and events, both in our college and in the community, with the hope of spreading the word about our program.  These efforts have all helped considerably, and awareness is growing. However, creating greater awareness of our program is an ongoing challenge, particularly as we expand our program to new campuses…

David Fein, of Abt Associates, recently published a brief titled, Risk Factors for College Success:  Insights from Adults in Nine Career Pathways Programs.  This brief looks at characteristics and outcomes for adults in nine different programs under study in the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) evaluation. 

The findings suggest a correlation between college success and past educational experiences, economic status, and expected work hours. Stress, academic discipline, and commitment to training are also presented as predictors of college outcomes.

Do the predictors of student success seen in these nine programs mirror what you're seeing in your programs?  If not, what other predictors are you seeing, and how are your programs being shaped to support learners around these predictors of completion and graduation outcomes?

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Thanks for sharing the brief, Mike. Certainly the factors mentioned impact success rates, though we have not measured them. Broadly speaking, students also often lack academic confidence as they begin the Adult Learning Academy. Many have not had good experiences in high school or in college; many lack supportive home/social environments; many have long believed they are not suited to academics by nature (as mentioned in the brief).

Within the ALA we address these determinants in a number of ways. In addition to having dedicated faculty and staff, we've found that an intentional mix of teaching styles benefits students. For example, one of our educational assistants is an excellent teacher of literacy, but his role is also to be intentionally present for students, to go into the hallway and have life conversations apart from the curriculum. Having these different teaching styles available both allows students to more easily connect to faculty and prepares them for what they'll encounter as they move through college and/or training.

We've also designed the curriculum to build in intensity and expectation. Starting out, students are given a great deal of latitude to work slowly, to get a feel for academics and their own abilities without stress and fear of failure. By the end, though, we ask for more intensity applied to more difficult material. We found through experience that if students are allowed to move too slowly the whole way, they might succeed in the academy but not necessarily in subsequent rigorous academic settings.

It makes so much sense to start with latitude and get the students actually expecting to succeed... and then ramp up the expectations to better match what they'll have to do later.   

We see this also in the Boot Camps.  Since Boot Camps are no cost to the students it provides them an opportunity to refresh their basic skills in math or English, to adjust to college expectations and build confidence in a no risk setting. While our Boot Camps are intensive with the speed and length of the course we have seen that those who can persist through the course do have that increase in confidence as they move on to their subsequent course work. Similar to what Mat mentioned their persistence in the Boot Camps does not necessarily ensure their success in the next level course work in which they battle being enrolled in more than one class, managing their time and managing more rigorous expectations/requirements.    

I thought I'd share a little more about our program through MoSTEMWINs. Students move through what we call the Portal on their way (usually) to a training program (i.e. MA or PCT). The portal consists of assessments, advising, new student workshop, digital literacy, "soft skills" workshops, and the Adult Learning Academy. This is all to put students in a position to be successful both short and long term.

While my focus is on the Adult Learning Academy, my students benefit from our digital literacy workshop. We ask everyone to come in to take two short quizzes: one for keyboarding and the other for basic knowledge of Windows, Word, and the internet. If a student passes both, they're though. If the benchmark isn't met on one or both, we enroll them in an online course where they can learn/practice to achieve proficiency. We recommend two weeks max to complete, although some finish in a day or two, and others (often those who have zero experience with computers) will take a little longer.

It seems like many college courses assume students' basic computer skills; of course, many students lack them, and this lack breeds uncertainty, extra time spent on assignments, poor communication with faculty, etc. From a faculty perspective, I can focus my time and energy on subject matter rather than on teaching computer skills.

I was wondering whether or how you approach digital literacy in boot camps or other ABE or Dev Ed programs. Do you have resources (computer labs/staff)? Do you design material or use existing? Have you seen the same benefits I have?


We have a basic course in computer skills but we could do a better job of getting people into the right stuff at the right time.  They need the course *before* school starts, not while they're trying to figure it out. 

Students do get referred to our tutorial lab where we can give them help with the basics but if it's s l o w typing ... that's an issue in and of itself.   We once had a little course just focused on helping you with school tech stuff but when that person retired, so did the course (and nobody gets replaced here).   It *did* have some very positive results.   

Many of our students come in with limited computer skills.  Unfortunately, we do not have any assigned training before they start the Boot Camp where they could strengthen those skills, which would be highly beneficial for all.  Luckily, here at GCC the Boot Camp classes are held in computer labs, this gives us the opportunity on the first day of the Boot Camp to assist the students.  The instructor, myself and an assistant work with the students one-on-one to teach them how to sign on to the computers, how to create or use their username/password for the school email/sign on. We have to help them register for the online component of the course through a website, which can be a barrier in itself as some students have limited experience with the internet.  This can be a lengthy task to complete when class sizes are between 18-22.  

We also face the issue of our students not having access to computers at home which effects their success in the program as one of the required components is online homework assignments.  We work with these students to inform them of the computer labs in the school they have access to, about coming to class early or staying late to complete assignments and about using their local public library.  While they have resources available to them not all students take advantage of these. 

The keyboarding is handled through need to achieve Proficient level or higher. The digital literacy study material is at, though our staff developed the pre-assessment (the one used to test out) and each unit's quiz (if they need to practice skills). The actual quizzes are housed in the college's LMS. We ask them to move through six units: Computer Basics, Windows Basics, Word 2013, Internet Basics, Internet Safety, and Email 101/Office 365 Online. Each quiz in each unit can be taken until passed at 80%. We neither encourage nor object to these quizzes taken "open book"--the course isn't intended to be a major hurdle. Actually, if a student has not passed several attempts, we might encourage open book!

We've been spread a little thin, but it would be great to create our own material for digital literacy! Hope this helps!

Thanks to everyone for this very interesting discussion. As a former adult educator and current researcher/PhD candidate, I have been speaking with low-income pre-college adults who have a lot of hope about the benefits of college. Many also, however, have experienced trauma and never saw "school" as a supportive and meaningful endeavor. I also find many have learned a lot from their lives, as well as from work, but may not consciously see themselves as "learners". Have you found similar trends in your work with students? What is happening in terms of using what adults already know and are interested in as a way to help them connect to school? I really worry about the impact on student motivation and self-concept when students take the Accuplacer and are told all they do NOT know...

Great observation! I know that in a traditional classroom setting there's a fine line between allowing students to develop literacy on subject matters meaningful to them while still preparing them for future classwork that does not directly have meaning to them. Needless to say, each instructor is tasked with showing how anything connects.

As a part of the grant, though, we have a couple advantages. First, I get to speak to potential students before they take the Accuplacer: I can assure them that no matter the result, we have an answer, a path, that will work for them as individuals. Also, the Adult Learning Academy is contextualized to particular career pathways (a luxury most traditional settings do not have). For example, students who will enter training to be a nursing assistant will read and write about healthcare. This at least encourages investment based on current interest and future utility. The faculty and staff are also developing a version of the curriculum that will have wellness as a theme; the idea is that we can explore wellness (emotional, physical, vocational, etc) in a way that connects to individual lives, encourages personal/societal reflection, and prompts forward thinking while developing core literacy skills. It's an experiment for us! But the goal is, as you say, to help learners connect to the knowledge they have coming in while keeping in mind their academic/vocational goals. 

Hi, Janet -

You may want to check out the Career Pathways Toolkit for ideas about Career Pathways program planning and development.  There are a lot of excellent resources that have been developed by fellow LINCS members and contributors.  If you have questions, please bring them to the community, and I'm sure others will be able to help you find answers.


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

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: