Launched in 2011, the Accelerating Opportunity (AO) initiative aims to help students who have low basic skills to earn valued occupational credentials, obtain well-paying jobs, and sustain rewarding careers. The model focuses on students who score between the 6th- and 12th-grade level in basic skill areas but who are interested in earning technical credentials. In particular, AO is designed for adult education students who lack high school diplomas or the equivalent. AO encourages states to change the delivery of adult education for these students by allowing community and technical colleges to enroll them in for-credit career and technical education (CTE) courses at the same time as they earn their high school credentials, improve their basic academic skills, or build their English language abilities. The CTE programs in which students enroll are structured as credit-bearing college and career pathways with enhanced support services. Each pathway must incorporate integrated instruction, which combines basic skills and technical training that is contextualized for the occupation targeted. This approach not only makes CTE courses accessible for students with low basic skills but also is intended to enhance the quality of instruction by having an adult education instructor “team-teach” with the CTE instructor. AO is also designed to change how states and colleges coordinate with government, business, and community partners by reforming policy and practice to make it easier for students with low basic skills to access and succeed in postsecondary education and the workforce.
As a part of a rigorous evaluation of the AO initiative, this report documents and assesses the first two years of the AO initiative in the four states active in both years. This period covers the spring 2012 to fall 2013 semesters in Illinois, Kansas, and Kentucky, and the fall 2012 to summer 2014 semesters in Louisiana. The data presented in this report come from a survey of all AO colleges, site visits to the participating states, program documentation, and quarterly calls with AO states and colleges. The first two years of the AO initiative represented a period of growth and change for the states and colleges, as they came to understand this new model for serving low-skilled adults and learned how to implement AO effectively in their state and colleges. The findings in this report focus on the development of the initiative in the second year and on changes from the first year of implementation. For consistency in these comparisons, the detailed findings are limited to the 34 colleges that participated in AO across both years. (author abstract)