Clark College upgrades adult basic education

Effort designed to streamline program

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Editor’s note

This story was written by a staff member of The Independent, Clark College’s student newspaper, as part of a collaboration with The Columbian called Voices From Clark College. It is also being published today in The Independent.

Clark College is leading the way in a national push to upgrade adult basic education programs in order to eliminate current overlap in class content, shorten the length of the program and, hopefully, lower the nearly 50 percent annual dropout rate.

The curriculum changes will begin fall quarter 2013 and continue throughout the winter and spring quarters, according to Larry Ruddell, the college's Adult Basic Education director.

Adult basic education aims to help adults improve their reading, writing and math skills and prepare for the GED test, as well as to develop skills needed in the workplace. The program also offers English as a Second Language classes. The program serves 2,000 to 3,000 students every year, according to Kael Godwin, research and analytics professional at Clark College.

Currently, most students spend four to five years completing the basic education program before they can move on to college. The time commitment discourages them from completing the program, Ruddell said. The new program will streamline the process through three Fast Track levels, which will emphasize oral, technological and team-building skills, according to Katy Washburne, an adult basic education instructor who is one of the designers of the new program.

Each Fast Track will be worth 15 credits per quarter, allowing students to accomplish in one quarter what normally takes at least a year.

Each of the Fast Tracks will have a separate theme. Fast Track One focuses on career exploration, and Fast Track Two will equip students with basic job skills. Fast Track Three prepares students for college-level work using textbooks donated by various departments at the college.

At any point, students can choose to skip ahead to a new Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training -- or I-BEST -- track that prepares them for entry-level jobs as certified nurse's assistants, early childhood educators, or for additional study of medical careers, Washburne said. Eventually, the college hopes to add I-BEST tracks for automotive, welding and office careers, as well.

A number of Washington's community colleges have been testing the I-BEST initiative during the last few years, and the federal government may implement the model nationally, said Ruddell. Clark's version is one of the most fully developed, he said.

The new program will eliminate pre-college developmental education classes, which are very similar in content to adult basic education classes, according to Ray Korpi, dean of basic education, English, communications and humanities.

In fact, the only significant difference between the two programs is that students in developmental education classes pay full tuition, even though they don't earn college credit. Students in adult basic education, on the other hand, can take as many classes as they want for $25 per quarter. The college pays for their textbooks, Korpi said.

Students will save with elimination of the developmental education classes, but Clark will lose tuition money. "If we do this well, we'll get our money back in the long run," Ruddell said. "I'm excited to work at a college willing to take that risk."

Last spring, college officials piloted a version of the new basic education program at the Columbia Tech Center campus. The number of students whose reading and math skills improved more than doubled, and attendance rose from 60 to 98 percent, Ruddell said.

Adult basic education students Olivia Godinez and Jessica Kao were excited about the changes, even though classes will be more challenging. "It's for our own good," Godinez said. "We want to get more knowledge."

Kate Bruner, an English instructor in the adult basic education program, said she enjoys helping her students prepare for success. "One thing that they all have in common is that they genuinely want a different way of life for themselves," Bruner said. "Somehow people get the impression that it's not as sexy as teaching Shakespeare or something, and I've never felt that. You need the basics, and I enjoy giving them what they need."