More than 1,000 students in Kansas earned 1,398 career credentials to increase Kansas' skilled workforce in high-demand jobs. The workforce development success was made possible by the Accelerating Opportunities for Kansans (AO-K) grant program that was implemented in 2012.

Garden City Community College and eight other Kansas institutions are helping working-age adults earn job-specific credentials through the AO-K program. The programs are funded through a grant awarded to the Kansas Board of Regents in partnership with the Kansas Department of Commerce. Organizations providing funding for the nationwide initiatives include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Open Society Foundation. The National Council on Workforce Education, National College Transition Network and the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges are involved as partners.

The AO-K program replicates a model from Washington State that merges basic skills learning with hands-on application learning for specific career fields. In 2012, the first year of the Kansas grant, GCCC developed career pathways for students to work in jobs that are in high-demand in southwest Kansas. The programs are adult basic education health care, English as a second language health care and welding. Both health care pathways primarily emphasize the Certified Nurse Aid field.

In all AO-K pathways, adult learners master essential skills such as math, reading and writing via GCCC's adult basic education program. Once students attain basic skills, they enter the career pathway of choice. At this point, adult basic education instructors and the GCCC faculty team teach the students to lead them to post-secondary credentials. The hope is that the students will continue their post-secondary educations, earning more credentials as they progress.

The AO-K learning environment involves instruction by two faculty members at the same time one in basic skills and one in the certificate area. This technique provides students the opportunity to integrate basic skills into career skills.

Results

In 2012, GCCC provided adult basic education and credentials, including a GED, to 123 students. A total of 95 adult students successfully completed the ABE health care pathway while the ESL health care and welding career pathways had 14 completers each.

Over the span of the grant (2011-14), GCCC seeks to have a total of 450 men and women complete career pathways and earn post-secondary credentials. GCCC may develop more career pathways as the program goes forward. Depending upon the effectiveness of the program, the AO-K model may be a permanent method of instruction for GCCC.

Statewide, the nine participating institutions enrolled 1,069 students, who earned 1,398 credentials. More than 360 AO-K students completed 12 postsecondary credit hour pathways.

In addition to GCCC, participating institutions are Butler, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Kansas City, Neosho County and Seward County community colleges, as well as Washburn Institute of Technology and Wichita Area Technical College.

Adult Education transforming

The Accelerating Opportunity program seeks to change the way adult basic education is delivered by putting adult students on track to earn a postsecondary credential, according to Hector Martinez, GCCC Adult Learning Center director, so they can seize the opportunity to earn family sustaining wages.

Managed nationally by the Jobs for the Future organization, AO-K was created to reduce the number of adults who lack job or career skills beyond a high school diploma. A total of 341 AO-K students across Kansas became employed as a result of their AO-K credentials.

Adult learners interested in participating may contact the GCCC Adult Learning Center at 276-7600, or visit the lower level of the GCCC Student and Community Services Center.