Helping Participants Increase Their Earnings

Module 4.2: Helping Participants Access Basic and Adult Education

Importance of Basic Skills

As FSS program coordinators, it is important to assess whether participants need help strengthening their basic skills. Programs often assume that only individuals without a high school diploma and/or with limited English language proficiency have need of basic skills services. In fact, a recent survey of American adults’ skills found that 60 percent of those with low skills had already completed high school.

Also, a high percentage of entering college students are referred to remedial courses, with about half taking at least one remedial course (with an average of 2.6 remedial courses among those who take any). An even larger number are referred to remediation, but many never enroll.

Helping FSS participants access quality basic and adult education can be the first step to helping them achieve a post-secondary credential, but coordinators need to be aware that basic skills services can be a dead end for individuals unless they are matched with efforts to connect them to further education, training, and jobs.

As an FSS practitioner describes in the video, it’s important to start by assessing participants’ educational needs.

FSS © 2017 | U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

Who Can Benefit From Basic Skills Programs?

There are two groups of low-income adults who could benefit from more help with basic skills:

  • Individuals who lack the basic skills and/or English language proficiency to access entry-level training. Many job training programs, including those at community colleges, screen out individuals who do not have at least eighth grade reading and writing skills. If the training is for a technical field, a program may also require math skills at least that high.
  • Individuals who have skill levels that are high enough to access entry-level occupational training but not high enough to gain entry to intermediate and advanced education and training programs. For example, someone’s basic academic skills and English language proficiency may be sufficient to gain entry to a medical assistant program but fall far short of what would be required to move up a career pathway and gain entry to a nursing program.

Traditional Basic Skills Programs

New approaches to basic skills instruction are needed. Traditional sequences of adult education, English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, and college remediation (known as developmental education) have high drop-out rates and low success rates for transitioning participants into job training and other post-secondary education. This may be because they take too long and are disconnected from individuals’ specific career goals. These effects are compounded when low-income adults must complete several levels of basic skills courses.

Innovations for Basic Skills Programs to Consider

When helping participants access basic skills services try to find programs that (click the arrows to expand the content):

Carreras en Salud, an Innovative Career Pathways Program

Carreras en Salud is a partnership between a community-based organization and a community college in Chicago that provides basic skills training and follows a Career Pathways approach. It offers individuals a number of different places to start on a health care career pathway depending on their academic skills and English language proficiency.

  • For participants who have low English language proficiency, have only fifth or sixth grade-level basic skills, and may not have a high school diploma, Carreras offers basic skills training and ESL instruction contextualized to a healthcare career.
  • Students who come to Carreras with somewhat higher skills or who complete that first bridge can enter the next step, a “Vocational English as a Second Language” (VESL) class that teaches skills specific to a certified nursing assistant (CNA) and then move on to the community college’s CNA exam preparation class.
  • The pathway continues with Carreras support and articulated classes from Wright College, all the way through the RN level, with each step building toward the next.

Other Promising Ways FSS Coordinators Can Help

Research on community colleges suggests that providing the elements below can also help participants begin and complete education (click the arrows to expand the content):

One important takeaway from the research is that multifaceted approaches that combine several innovations seem to be more effective than any one of them alone.

Implications for FSS Strategies to Help Participants Upgrade Skills

Some specific steps you can take to help FSS participants are:

  • Identify and refer to basic and adult skills programs.
    Identify basic skills classes (whether part of adult education or in college remediation) that offer the kinds of contextualized and accelerated services described earlier as part of structured academic or career pathways, including programs that allow participants to enroll in basic skills and post-secondary education and training at the same time (concurrent enrollment). Research past performance of potential education and training Partners. FSS programs can request information on past performance from education and training partners to help sift through which programs are likely to produce the best outcomes for different kinds of FSS participants.
  • Identify and refer to occupational programs that have some of the characteristics outlined in the job-driven checklist.
  • Understand high school equivalency exam options.
    Help participants understand new high school equivalency exam options, as there are important differences between them such as whether they are solely computer-administered or can also be taken on paper, the cost of the exams, and what share of test takers typically succeed in passing.
  • Refer to high-intensity basic skills education programs.
    Try to refer participants to high intensity basic skills education programs, to the extent their work schedules allow, which meet for 15-20 hours a week so that students can complete the programs more quickly.

View or Download Job-Driven Employment & Training Checklist

Elements to Consider Offering Through the FSS Program

While FSS coordinators do not generally provide services directly, some incorporate advice and counseling about employment and education into their case management. Here are some ideas for making that advice as helpful as possible:

Career Exploration

To help participants explore new careers, FSS coordinators can get information on the local labor market from career centers and state labor market information websites to help their participants understand which jobs are in demand, offer (or can lead to) family-supporting wages, and what skills, experience, and credentials are needed to qualify for them. For lower-skilled adults, FSS coordinators can find helpful resources, free curricula, and online training on the LINCS (Literacy Information and Communication System) website, such as the Integrating Career Awareness curriculum.

Enhanced Academic and Career Advising

This type of advising helps participants set academic and career goals, make choices about education and training options, progress through and complete programs, and transition successfully to the next education or employment step. Some FSS programs dedicate a FSS coordinator or other FSS staff to act as a career coach or navigator. These staff members typically integrate both academic and career counseling, have relatively low caseloads (typically no more than 60 or fewer active cases at a time), and are proactive in reaching out to participants, and meet frequently, such as weekly, for at least the initial months of program participation.

In this video clip an FSS coordinator describes her role in navigating the career center and advocating on her client’s behalf.

FSS coordinators can also provide the following to help their participants meet their goals:

  • Financial aid and incentives
    Financial incentives may include financial aid, if linked to certain behavior, or may be cash or in-kind rewards for successful program participation. For example, the Lincoln, Nebraska, FSS program offers direct financial assistance of up to $1,000 per participant per year, which can be used for tuition, child care, car repair, etc. Participants have to turn in class grades and schedules to get these financial incentives and maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher.
  • Digital Literacy Programs
    Digital Literacy is vital for low-income adults to meet their goals. Participants must be able to use technology successfully in the workplace and in education and training settings. FSS programs may be able to provide their participants with online training to increase digital literacy for a range of uses. For example, the Minnesota Public Library offers many different digital literacy modules, some of which are linked to the Northstar Digital Literacy assessment and certification.

Please complete this quiz before you proceed to the next module. To take the quiz, use the arrow keys or click the correct answer choice. If you answer incorrectly, you will be able to try again until you select the correct response.
Scores will not be recorded.

1. New approaches to basic skills are needed because there are high rates of attrition and low transition into job training and other post-secondary education.

A - True.Correct!Traditional basic skills courses are often too loosely connected to a participant’s career goals and take too long.B - False.Incorrect.Traditional basic skills courses result in high rates of attrition and have low rates of transition into job training programs. These courses can often be a deterrent to participants who are trying to achieve credentials/certificate through job training or post-secondary education.

2. Which basic skills innovations show promising results in research studies thus far?

A - Acceleration.Partially correct.This is one innovation, but it’s not the only one listed. All of the listed innovations show promising results.B - Contextualization.Partially correct.This is one innovation, but it’s not the only one listed. All of the listed innovations show promising results.C - Concurrent Enrollment.Partially correct.This is one innovation, but it’s not the only one listed. All of the listed innovations show promising results.D - Structured Pathways.Partially correct.This is one innovation, but it’s not the only one listed. All of the listed innovations show promising results.E - All of the above.Correct!All of the innovations listed above seem to be helping participants achieve better outcomes.F - None of the above.Incorrect.All of the innovations listed above seem to be helping participants achieve better outcomes.

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