What Are Adult Education Bridges and Why Do We Need Them?

Bridges are defined formally by the Illinois Community College Board as “programs that prepare adults with limited academic or limited English skills to enter and succeed in credit-bearing postsecondary education and training leading to career-path employment in high-demand, middle- and high-skilled occupations.” It’s important to note that “career-path employment” is a key bridge concept; we don’t want to steer ESL and ABE/GED students who are in the job market into dead-end, low-paying jobs, but rather into careers that offer opportunities to start out with a basic certificate and an entry-level job, then return to school and apply previous coursework toward additional certifications and/or a degree. Despite an unemployment rate of almost 10% in our area, “middle-skill jobs [defined as those that require more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree] will remain essential to Illinois’ economy into the foreseeable future, accounting for over one million jobs openings in Illinois—some 45 percent through 2016.”*

Effective bridge programming should:

  • prepare students for an industry sector, not a single occupation, so that students have options (e.g., a healthcare bridge rather than a nursing assistant bridge)
  • include reading and math instruction contextualized to the particular sector (e.g., math for healthcare) as well as basic sector-related knowledge, career development, and support services for transition
  • accelerate learning and provide motivation for students who test as low as a 6th grade reading level
  • prepare students to pass the GED exam if they did not complete high school

Bridges are one of several transition strategies that will help CCC achieve the fourth Reinvention goal, to increase the number and share of Adult Education students who advance to and succeed in college-level courses (other transition initiatives include the Gateway program and College Prep GED). By the end of FY13, each of the six City Colleges offering Adult Education will have bridge programs in place. Daley College is already taking bridges one step further as one of eight Illinois community colleges selected to participate in Accelerating Opportunity, a nationwide adult education transition initiative with support from the Gates and Joyce Foundations and other major funders. Under this initiative, Daley is incorporating a transition program called I-CAPS, based on the highly successful Washington state I-BEST model, which embeds a basic skills instructor in the college classroom along with the occupational instructor to ensure student success. Daley now offers a new manufacturing bridge/I-CAPS program along with its successful healthcare bridge/I-CAPS programs.

Bridges will be an integral part of the major City Colleges of Chicago initiative recently announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “College to Careers.” C2C is initially focusing on preparing students for a spectrum of well-paying jobs in two high-growth industries—healthcare and transportation, distribution, and logistics. Thanks to the contextualized basic skills preparation afforded by bridges, individuals at the Adult Education or developmental education levels will have a fair chance of entering and succeeding in these programs on an even footing with students who enter without the need for remediation.

*2009 National Skills Coalition report, http://www.nationalskillscoalition.org/assets/reports-/skills2compete_fogottenjobsupdatedbrief_il_2009-10.pdf

     – Ann Darnton, Center for Operational Excellence


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