New report on career pathways programming in Chicago, Houston, & Miami

Did you know that 83% of adult education providers in Chicago, Houston, and Miami are offering career pathways services?

Read more findings from our survey of 106 adult education providers in the report, “Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants." Funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (U.S. Department of Education), this researcher-practitioner partnership project is the first to map the landscape of career pathways in these three cities.

The report shares detailed survey findings about the following topics:

  • Overview of adult education and career pathways in the three cities (e.g., organizational types, funding sources);
  • Coordination and planning across career pathways providers;
  • Student characteristics and demographics;
  • Program design and delivery; and
  • Student outcomes.

Statistically significant findings are highlighted throughout the report, including differences between cities.

For more information about this researcher-practitioner partnership between Penn State’s Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy, Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition, Houston Center for Literacy, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools, please visit our website:

Stay tuned for future reports on focus groups with adult education providers and case studies of six exemplary organizations. I'm happy to answer any questions.

Esther Prins

Principal Investigator

Professor, Lifelong Learning & Adult Education Program

Co-Director, Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy

The Pennsylvania State University

Co-Principal Investigators

Becky Raymond, Executive Director, Chicago Citywide Literacy Coalition

Sheri Foreman Elder, President and CEO, Houston Center for Literacy

Mark Needle, Educational Specialist, Miami-Dade County Public Schools

Dr. Carol Clymer (Co-Director) and Dr. Blaire Toso (Associate Director), Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy


Thank you, Dr Prins, and all the investigators, for this wonderful resource. I am from a rural county in Ohio (THE most rural county in Ohio!), currently labeled post-industrial Appalachia. I am wondering if you have suggestions or resources to help our workforce development organizations map the career pathways landscape of our own area? Are you looking for additional partners?

Thank you!

Meagen Farrell

Chief Learning Officer, Mustard Seed Training

Jefferson, Ohio

Hello, Meagen. Sorry for the delay in responding--for some reason I don't get notifications when people respond to my posts. Anyway, can you tell me more about what you are interested in finding out? You are welcome to see the survey at the end of the report on the survey findings. This provides all the questions we asked of providers. It really depends on what you want to find out. Unfortunately we are wrapping up this grant and aren't able to take on new partners, but we'd be happy to talk with you via phone or Skype to answer any questions you might have, offer suggestions, etc.

I would recommend contacting Extension at Ohio State and/or the Adult Education Program at Cleveland State. They might be better positioned to partner with you. 

Please let me know what other kinds of information I can provide.

Dr. Prins -

Thank you for sharing the report of your surveys findings with us.  There's a lot of material to digest, and opportunities to connect this survey, with what practitioners in other cities are seeing and doing with regards to career pathways. 

Your survey asked participants to respond to questions based on the following CLASP definition of career pathways. "The career pathways approach connects progressive levels of basic and post-secondary education, training, and supportive services in specific sectors or cross-sector occupations in a way that optimizes the progress and success of individuals - including those with limited education, English skills, and/or work experiences - in securing marketable credentials, family-supporting employment, and further education and employment opportunities". 

The report's executive summary outlines that 94% of the participating adult education agencies 'currently offer or are developing CP (Career Pathways) programming, per the CLASP definition'.   It's also noted that 'at least 50% of programs also have threshold requirements for accessing the classes and services...'.  You note that this raises the questions about how we are making sure that those with the most significant barriers to education and employment are able to access career pathways. I wonder if your survey team found any anecdotal stories about how programs without these threshold requirements are working with all participants to engage in meaningful career pathways programming?

The executive summary also notes that 'finding ways to measure interim training outcomes is crucial for capturing the achievements of learners who are a long way from reaching longer-term outcomes such as passing the GED tests, attaining a post-secondary credential, or finding a job'.  Can you tell us what, if any, thoughts were generated from the survey collection process that may help us to think about how we collect meaningful evidence to support interim training outcomes?

Thanks again for sharing the wealth of important information that you and your team have collected and analyzed. 


Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Regarding threshold requirements, the survey didn't ask what their requirements *were*. However, we do have data from the six case study programs. If you go to slide 28 in this presentation (, you'll see the entry (or exit) requirements for those 6 programs. 

In sum, 4 out of 6 did not require a HS/GED diploma. In terms of placement scores, the minimum TABE was anywhere from 5.0 to 9.0. Two programs--both in Chicago--have a clear progression from basic ABE to advanced career/technical or college credit classes. JARC: literacy tutoring --> bridge class with contextualized curriculum --> CTE manufacturing classes. Malcolm X College: Career Foundations class (ABE/basic literacy) --> bridge class with contextualized health curriculum + 1 credit class--> Gateway program (contextualized instruction + 2 credit classes). So this is one model for ensuring that students with lower scores can access career pathways. Note that Lindsey Hopkins had no entry requirements, but did have exit requirements. This is another way to reach lower-level students. Finally, although they weren't included in the case studies, Institute del Progreso Latino has a very successful health career pathways model and they have found that they can enroll students who test as low as 4th grade level. This is much lower than most other programs.

"The executive summary also notes that 'finding ways to measure interim training outcomes is crucial for capturing the achievements of learners who are a long way from reaching longer-term outcomes such as passing the GED tests, attaining a post-secondary credential, or finding a job'.  Can you tell us what, if any, thoughts were generated from the survey collection process that may help us to think about how we collect meaningful evidence to support interim training outcomes?"

I would take a close look at the list of CLASP interim outcomes, listed below, with the percentage of our survey respondents that measured them:

educational level gains on standardized test - 85%

educational gains (teacher/program-created assessment) - 46%

re-enrolled in pathway course (next term) - 30%

completed post-secondary math or English course - 17%

completed postsecondary pathway course - 15%

completed developmental/remedial course (postsecondary) - 12%

accumulated pathway credits - 7%

The vast majority of programs measure educational level gains--primarily because they're required to do so under WIOA/NRS.

I would start by asking whether (a) the other outcomes are meaningful (do they align with what a given program is trying to accomplish) and (b) if so, how could you collect data to measure this? For programs that focus on transitions to postsecondary, this would involve following up with participants to see whether they've enrolled in these kinds of courses. Obviously, this would be easier to do at community college sites rather than CBOs. 

So the key question is: in between enrolling in the career pathways program and obtaining an educational certificate/credential/degree or obtaining a job, how can programs measure progress toward these longer-term goals?

Dr. Prins -

Thanks for your insights on measuring progress on longer-term goals.  I wonder if you have encountered any programs that use progress on industry-credential attainment, in addition to educational level gains, to measure interim outcomes?  For example, have you found programs where gains on industry credential pre-tests - or possibly full credential exams - are also used to measure interim progress?

You mention in another post about a healthcare career pathway program that works with learners at a 4th grade level.  That is quite a remarkable entry level to begin from, with the goal of achieving a healthcare related industry credential.  Was the expectation that participants would earn an industry credential as a part of their enrollment?  If so, were the measures used by this organization to show progress towards attaining a passing score on the industry credential based purely on academic measures (ie, TABE, CASAS, etc.) , or did they use a more context-based measure, such as an industry credential pre-test, or actual test? 

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator


You can read more about Instituto here:  They were not one of our case studies, so I can't tell you a whole lot more about them, but they have been studied by others because they are so successful. 

I know that learners at JARC in Chicago leave the program with industry-recognized credentials (e.g., NIMS) and that is definitely something they measure. But I don't think they measure gains on the NIMS tests, just whether or not they obtained the credential.

Dr. Prins, and her research team, have looked at Career Pathways (CP) programs across three cities, and how they're defining and measuring the gains made by their participants.  How is your CP program looking at learner gains?  What are some of the challenges you've faced, and solutions you've implemented to track progress being made by learners in both academic level and industry credential attainment?

Mike Cruse

Career Pathways Moderator

Good Morning,

I briefly wanted to follow up and say that I wanted to lend a little of my perspective since I work in a program where the minimum math CASAS score for entry is around the 4th grade level (specifically 212).  Our reading Entry scores are 224 (which, if I recall, is around the 6th grade).  More than 80% of our healthcare graduates attain their credentials (the NHA Certified Medical Administrative Assistant and/or Electronic Health Record Specialist).  There are some factors that probably contribute to this--most of our students are native English speakers (the median CASAS English score is usually in the Low 230's--high 8th grade or low 9th grade) and roughly 80% have their high school diploma (I need to parse Dr. Prins' data a little to see if she studied a comparable program).  I admit I worry that sometimes expectations for people who have relatively low skills are set too low.  Many comparable programs in my area (which offer the same credentials that we offer) require a much higher CASAS scores and a high school diploma for programs (and even have these requirements for Nursing Assistant programs, which are, typically, less academically rigorous).  I think credential completion can be a reasonable expectation for programs serving lower-skilled learners.

This raises another question: I often wonder about the purpose of drawing a strict distinction between short and longer-term outcomes--many of the students who I work with attain initial employment (often in a targeted sector), receive promotions, retain employment, and enter a change in income before enrolling in a credit-bearing course or attaining a high school diploma.  I think a lot of the short-term and long-term outcomes reflect a sequential view of adult education (ABE, GED, college, job, credential) that WIOA is attempting to upend.

You raise several good points. It's true that many adult learners cycle in and out of employment and education, and that many are working. I think the broader point from CLASP is to make sure that we're capturing accomplishments of students who may be a long ways off from earning a postsecondary degree or securing stable, better-paying jobs.