NORMAL — Strengthening the transition from basic skills to post-secondary career training and increasing public-private partnerships are among the potential goals under consideration of a new statewide task force studying adult education.
That's welcome news for Kerry Urquizo, director of adult education at Heartland Community College.
“Right now, we need to make more connections with workplaces and workplaces need to be more open to us as a pipeline,” said Urquizo.
The Statewide Task Force on the Future of Adult Education and Literacy was created by the Illinois Community College Board as a result of legislative action earlier this year. The group had its first meeting on Oct. 23 and its final report is due Jan. 31.
“Adult education isn't about getting students a high school equivalency certificate anymore. It's about preparing them for training programs that can get them good jobs,” said task force Chairwoman Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the ICCB.
Matt Berry, ICCB spokesman, said task force members brainstormed about potential goals as well as improvements or problems that need to be considered.
Those improvements include greater development of soft skills and career readiness, such as resume writing, interviewing, communication and time management, he said.
Other potential goals include identifying successful pilot programs and expanding them statewide and fostering lifelong focus, he said.
Among concerns raised at the initial meeting was that while a lot of students are entering adult basic education classes at community colleges, not enough are moving into middle-level, advanced career training, said Berry.
He said competing interests can be involved.
“You're trying to get them through the pipeline faster and into the workforce … but there's also a need for the more advanced skills required in today's economy,” he said.
One way that is being addressed at Heartland is through ICAPS — Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System — in which students take some academic courses at the same time they are taking preparation courses for their high school equivalency degree, explained Urquizo.
She hopes the task force will look for ways to expand that approach.
Currently, there are three assessment programs for getting a high school equivalency degree.
Mark Jontry, regional superintendent of education, said he hopes the task force will look at which assessments are the most successful.
He said the task force should ask, “Are people passing one at a better rate than others and how well are they transitioning into college and career programs?”
More than 1.2 million adults in Illinois do not have a high school diploma or equivalency certificate, according to the ICCB.
“The challenge for the adult education providers with the recent (state) budget problems is they have had their funding cut severely,” said Jontry.
The state provides adult education funding, but delays caused by the budget impasse led to reduced course offerings at Heartland. Some schools temporarily shut down their adult education programs.
Urquizo said 645 students went through adult education courses in the last academic year. That was lower than typical because of the state's budget problems, she said, but it's climbing back this year.
In addition to adult education courses leading to high school equivalency certificates, Heartland also operates an English as a second language program that has nine levels. It goes from functional English and workplace communication to academic English.
Urquizo has seen many changes in the dozen years she has been involved in adult education at Heartland.
She has watched it go from students being solely focused on getting their GED certificate to having them think about longer term career goals.
“The whole culture of adult education has shifted and I think it's wonderful,” she said.