Adult Career Pathways

Gaps exist in knowledge about the development of curricular models that lead to student success as demonstrated by a range of student outcomes, particularly retention in postsecondary education and placement in related employment. Despite the growing literature on the mixed effects of Adult Basic Education (ABE) and the GED, very little is known about how new curricular and instructional pathways integrate ABE, pre-college and developmental instruction with postsecondary occupational-technical certificate and associate degree programs in community colleges. In undertaking this project, we sought to deepen understanding of an emerging trend that has the potential to create fundamental changes in the ways low-skilled adult learners engage in, enter into, and succeed in postsecondary education and employment.


  1. To identify and describe innovative curricular and instructional models and practices associated with adult career pathway programs that connect ABE, GED, and related adult education and literacy programs to community college occupational-technical education and training.
  2. To provide a baseline for further research on how these programs facilitate the transition of low-skilled adults into postsecondary occupational-technical programs and family-supporting careers.
  3. To identify and document local models and practices with respect to goals, key components, implementation strategies, partnerships, and evidence of impact on education and employment.

Project Profile

This 1-year study focused on curricular and instructional models associated with adult career pathway transition programs at selected community colleges. This study employed a research synthesis, a national advisory panel, and intensive case studies utilizing interviews with key experts and practitioners to describe adult career pathways to postsecondary occupational-technical education programs for low-skilled adults. Researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota , and the University of Louisville carried out the case studies. Site visits were made to four locations in the United States and involved 20-25 stakeholder interviews, classroom observations, reviews of relevant institutional documents, and demographic data. Following each site visit, the interviews and documents were analyzed for emerging patterns and themes. A cross-analysis identified common and unique trends and practice strategies for implementing adult career pathway programs.

A Research Synthesis integrated the ABE, GED and adult literacy research with literature on career pathway programs offered for traditional age learners and adults. These disparate strands of literature are not often integrated, creating the opportunity to identify new definitions, concepts and constructs that can inform the empirical research. Results were disseminated via professional conferences and journals for practitioners and researchers. A technical report was prepared to summarize major findings and recommendations. The findings were shared on professional associations that are dedicated to serving adult learners engaged in occupational-technical education, including the American Association of Community Colleges, National Council on Workforce Education, the Association for Career and Technical Education.

National Advisory Panel

  • Julian Alssid, Executive Director, Workforce Strategy Center
  • Elaine Baker, Director of Workforce Initiatives, Community College of Denver
  • Kathy Cooper, Policy Associate, Basic Skills Programs, Washington State for Board of Community & Technical Colleges
  • Ricardo Estrada, Instituto del Progreso Latino, Chicago, IL
  • Cindy Fiorella, Dean of Community, Workforce, & Economic Development, Owensboro Community & Technical College, KY
  • Steve Jackobs, Executive Director, Capital IDEA, TX
  • Shauna King-Simms, Director of Adult Education Partnerships and Transitions, Kentucky Community and Technical College System
  • Mimi Maduro, Workforce Development Director, Columbia Gorge Community College, OR
  • Christopher Mazzeo, Independent Consultant
  • Linda Beene, Director, Arkansas Department of Higher Education
  • Jan Motta, Massachusetts Community Colleges Executive Office
  • Larry J. Warford, Consultant for Workforce Development, League for Innovation in the Community College
  • Rock Pfotenhauer, Dean of Instruction, Career Education and Economic Development, Cabrillo College, CA
  • Jerry Rubin, Vice President, Building Economic Opportunity , Jobs for the Future
  • Stephen Ruffini, Director of Director, Research and Program Evaluation GED Testing Service, American Council on Education

Voices and Viewpoints

Adult Career Pathways Publications

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