Our virtual roadshow is stopping in Mississippi this week to hear from Beth Little, State Director of Adult Education & High School Equivalency at MS Community College Board.
We are excited to hear about the postsecondary transition promising practices that Beth has identified that are happening in Mississippi's adult basic education programs. For the next week, we encourage group members to add questions to this discussion for Beth or other community members.
I will get the questions going-
1. What are some of the common struggles that adult learners face in Mississippi when trying to transition to postsecondary education?
2. Tell us about how Mississippi uses navigators to help support adult learners?
3. What are you most proud of that is happening in adult basic education right now in your state?
Most students struggle with navigating the enrollment process. A large percentage of our students are the first in their households/families to enroll in college. For some it's been years since they were enrolled in any type of educational institution and they have low self esteem and very little confidence. Even students that have family members who attended college often lack the support that is needed. In general, most adult education students aren't familiar with what FASFA is, how to complete it, or how to fill out a college application. It's overwhelming and often confusing when students are required to visit numerous offices on campus just to begin the enrollment process. To assist with this, we now have College and Career Navigators (CCN) that walk students through the entire process. In addition, personnel from the various departments such as the business office, admissions, housing, financial aid, etc. visit the adult education programs periodically in order for the students to become familiar with them. It is much easier for students to visit the various departments when they see a familiar face.
Students also aren't sure what course of study or pathway to choose. Prior to WIOA, once a student earned a high school equivalency diploma, they would often say "What do I do now?" and we would connect them to the college recruiting office. In 2016, Mississippi created a Smart Start Pathway course that includes career awareness, necessary skills, and basic skills instruction. One objective of the course is the completion of a career interest survey. This is a great introduction to what jobs are available and provides a general idea as to what the students would be better suited for. For example, it's common for a student to enroll in adult education and want to become a doctor or lawyer and later find out that their interests are more aligned with working in agriculture or architecture. Colleges have also implemented an Adult Education Day where students tour the various programs offered on campus. This allows adult education students to see other students, like them, enrolled in the various programs. It also gives them the opportunity to talk to both college students and instructors while learning about the various job opportunities available after completion of each program or course of study. A student may think they want to enroll in welding and after the tour determine they are really interested in precision manufacturing. Being proactive on the front end, when students enroll, and learning what courses or pathway/s students want to pursue, allows adult education staff to place students in classes where contextualized instruction is provided based on the students' interests.
Mississippi's College and Career Navigators (CCN) are an integral part of adult education. They serve as the main liaison for students while they matriculate through the program. Navigators help with program recruitment, placement, retention and student completion.
During orientation, students work closely with the CCN to develop a Student Success Plan (SSP); a comprehensive individualized plan for adult education participants developed jointly by the student and adult education staff with the ultimate goal of employment earning a family-sustaining wage. The SSP is an ongoing, active document used to collect demographic data, signatures for release of information and acceptable use of technology, and socioeconomic background information, including barriers to employment. This information is used to make referrals to core partners in an effort to eliminate barriers to adult education enrollment and future employment. The SSP sets and tracks academic, training, and postsecondary education, as well as education and employment goals used to report performance and outcome measures. Each SSP contains the steps necessary to lead students to success and is reviewed and updated regularly to evaluate the current needs of the student and ensure progress is occurring.
In order to provide students with employment opportunities, CCNs collaborate with the regional workforce development systems, local businesses, and other community organizations to facilitate employment search, internships, apprenticeships, and/or job placement opportunities.
CCNs provide counseling, transportation, food, and are also advocates, court liaisons, and a referral source for students. CCNs search for funding to pay for college enrollment, books, supplies, tools, etc. Mississippi's adult education programs employ at least one CCN. The CCNs are the glue that holds the adult education, CTE, and Workforce programs together by leading and facilitating continuous collaboration in order to provide the best opportunity for the students. Quarterly Zoom meetings are scheduled to allow CCNs the opportunity to share best practices and discuss challenges. The MS Office of Adult Education hosts an annual CCN Retreat where speakers present on a variety of topics such as: connecting culturally diverse populations, having difficult conversations, leadership, community resources, coaching and mentoring.
In Mississippi Adult Education, we are really proud of the IET opportunities that are now available for all levels of students. While MIBEST primarily focused on the upper level students, which was necessary for them to succeed in specific CTE and Workforce (WF) programs, we realized we were missing out on providing programs for a huge population of our students. Our largest cohort are those with EFL 3 and below. For the past 3 years, we've worked extensively with our WF partners at the community colleges to create foundation and bridge pathways for our students. Like every state, we have students that are EFLs 1-3 who need immediate employment to provide for their families. They do not have the luxury to take months or even longer to earn a high school equivalency; however, they have the knowledge and ability to learn a skill. By collaborating with WF we have created a variety of pathways for this cohort that lead to employment. After students become employed, some employers are providing them with the time, resources, and/or wages to further their education.
Thank you, Beth for sharing information about the important role navigators play in helping adults enter and progress along promising career pathways. If you are looking for more resources around navigators, check out this discussion post from April which is focused on navigators that support English learners along an IELCE/IET career pathway.
There is also a free online course offered by World Education called Finding True North- The Role of the Navigator that may be helpful for states or programs that are just starting out with using navigators.