Today on Teaching & Learning Champions, we’re joined by Katherine Dowdy, Executive Director of Adult Education. We’re talking about the importance of adult education programs on Guided Pathways.

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Episode Transcript

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[Matthew Evins]: Welcome to another episode of Teaching and Learning Champions. I’m Matt Evins, Director of Instructional Technology and Digital Resources in the Teaching and Learning Excellence Division at ACC. Today, I’m joined by Katherine Dowdy, Executive Director of Adult Education, as we talk about the importance of adult education programs on guided pathways. Katherine, thank you for joining me today.

[Katherine Dowdy]: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

[Matthew Evins]: Can you tell us a little bit about the mission and the function of the adult education program?

[Katherine Dowdy]: Yes. The mission of the Division of Adult Education is to help prepare students for career and college. And, all our students by definition are not TSI complete and we help them – it depends on where they are, so we help them with language skills. We have a very large ESL instructional department. Well, we have four instructional departments, so ESL is our largest. Well, okay, I’m going to step back. We served last year about 4,700 students and we did that through instruction and then extra support, both through counseling, advising, and then also financial support. So, through our instructional departments, we have ESL, English as a Second Language. We also help students prepare for their high school equivalency exam, which the most famous of these is GED, and then we help students become TSI complete. It’s similar to Developmental Education, and then finally, we have a Career Pathways Program where we enroll students actually in either continuing education classes where they get certifications or academic programs like academic level I certs and so forth. And, at the same time, giving them basic skills, very similar to what Developmental Ed does with their [inaudible] model. And, then we have an advising team. We have five advisors and then we have coordinators who help our students similarly with registering for classes and then giving them financial assistance and then also just helping them with life, things that come up through life.

[Matthew Evins]: Great. How does the adult education program prepare students to continue their education at ACC?

[Katherine Dowdy]: Well, just by the nature of our program being embedded at ACC and ACC being a physical agent, we’re preparing every one of our students to further their education at ACC. All of our students have access to Blackboard, they have ACC student IDs, they get parking permits, they get bus passes, they are ACC students. They are Riverbats from the very beginning, so it’s their environment. So, we’re preparing them in that way. The other way we do them in even more tangible ways, you know, our advisors are there when they transition from college, they are helping them with the application, their helping them with their financial aid application. They then follow them and make sure they are continuing and being successful in their classes. Our college prep program is all about helping them be TSI complete. And, it’s, you know, it’s a pretty intense program. It’s unlike Developmental Ed in a sense that completing college prep does not in and of itself make you TSI complete. They have to go back and circle back and become TSI complete through the exam, but at the same token, they can go from a 310 to 350. So, we’re doing it academically and then also with support, helping them navigate all of ACC, all the different services. We’ll walk them to Student Life. They have the Food Bank and different resources. We’ll walk them over to the Accelerator. You know, it’s just extra support for the students.

[Matthew Evins]: What do you see as being the sort of, I guess, the divide between the students who come to the adult education program to get their high school equivalency versus the students who get their high school equivalency and then continue taking classes for their associates degree at the college? Do you have any, I guess, statistics on the percentage of students that stop after the equivalency and continue on?

[Katherine Dowdy]: Oh, we do have one of the highest rates of transition between high school equivalency and college around the nation for students. And, I think that’s in part because we are embedded, but at the same time right now, there’s such a good employment outlook for Travis County that a lot of students just want to get their HSE so that they can move up in their career and they have some pretty good careers. So, remind me your question again.

[Matthew Evins]: Do you have any —

[Katherine Dowdy]: Statistics.

[Matthew Evins]: — statistics between the percentage that stop after HSE versus those that transition to an associate’s degree?

[Katherine Dowdy]: Well, it’s about 40-45% that are transitioning to ACC. Now, we look at that – that rate is over, I think it’s over a year. Sometimes the students stop out for longer and we’re not capturing them with that rate, because once you’re in an adult ed student, you’re always an adult ed student, so you can circle back three, four years later. And, of course, with Guided Pathways and the stackable credentials, it’s easier than ever to stop out and come back.

[Matthew Evins]: Yeah. Great. How have the adult education courses been impacted since the college’s adoption of Guided Pathways?

[Katherine Dowdy]: Well, I think the entire state has, but adult education is implemented across the state and like through the workforce areas. And so, ACC has been – and, I’m giving you the big picture of this, is we are the adult ed service provider, ACC is, and has been since 1973. And, with the new – we received a new grant and I was – and we had to apply for it – we’ve had it along, but we had to reapply, and embedded in our grant was a Guided Pathways form. So, we have to by our grant, we have it with ACC, but we also have it through our grant that we need to have AOS and we have to have areas of study. And, the reason being is just to help students start earlier to identify their interests, because I think humans, they do better if we’re mapping out that pathway. And, I think that’s what Guided Pathways is about and it provides information from the beginning. So, we ask our students because of our grant, but it’s all in line with what’s happening here at ACC, the area of study and the Guided Pathways and the stackable credentials. We’re asking them from the minute they do the adult education application, we’re asking them their identified area of interest, AOS. And so, what it does is it helps us to identify, it helps us for our advisors, it helps us for our curriculum and our curriculum design. So, we’re embedding into the curriculum the areas that our students are identifying so that we can help them start to – so, they might choose, for example, they might choose health sciences, but they choose it because it is in demand. They may have a cousin who did it, you know, or they were in the hospital themselves, but they need more information to really make a firm decision. And so, with that embedded information, they can be even more informed when they transition to ACC and we can keep them – just help them make good decisions.

[Matthew Evins]: Right.

[Katherine Dowdy]: And, if they change, they can change even before they get to ACC. And, again, we know students – we know humans. Humans, the more information they have, they may make a completely different choice, but what I like about Guided Pathways and the AOS is it’s helping them explore their perceived area of interests earlier so that they can become either more solid or change.

[Matthew Evins]: Okay. So, for the – there’s really two different, I guess, populations of students —

[Katherine Dowdy]: Yeah.

[Matthew Evins]: — at adult education service, those students that are looking to ultimately transition into an AOS and receiving an associate’s degree and then those students that come to ACC’s adult education program to get their high school equivalency and then continue into the workforce. What do you see as being the difference in the benefits of Guided Pathways between those two populations? You’ve already talked a little bit about the students who are here to transition and through the use of advisors and, you know, their interests and things like that, but what are the benefits of Guided Pathways for those students who just come to the adult education program for their high school equivalency exam?

[Katherine Dowdy]: Well, if you don’t mind, I’m going to expand it to all of our students —

[Matthew Evins]: Sure.

[Katherine Dowdy]: — because they’re all transitioning over to ACC and what I love about the Guided Pathways – well, I’m going to actually focus on this one area that we have in Career Pathways, which is related to high school equivalency. So, the federal government came out with a new form of financial aid that allows students that did not have their high school equivalency apply for financial aid, but there’s a lot of stipulations. They used to have it where if you made a certain score on the TSI exam, you could access financial aid even without your high school equivalency or high school diploma. They took it back, retooled it and made it pretty limited. And, at first glance, I thought who’s this going to benefit. And, I think this will lead back to why do I think Guided Pathways is so good, so the stipulations are is that you have to show that you are – oh, the only way you can get financial aid is for an academic level I cert in an in demand occupation in your area. Very limited.

[Matthew Evins]: Yeah.

[Katherine Dowdy]: It used to be open.

[Matthew Evins]: Right.

[Katherine Dowdy]: So, when you look at an academic level I cert, well you don’t need to be TSI [inaudible] anyway, so that kind of helps bridge that, although we do know that they can still be academically challenging. The other piece of that is it’s in demand, so we had to do a crosswalk with our in-demand area. And, then – anyway, so I think I’ve given enough information on that. So, we have students who are going for their high school equivalency and then they’re also co-enrolling in an academic level I cert. And, at first I was like, it feels a little bit like tracking, you know, but I absolutely love about it is the academic level I certs are, well they are an all in demand occupations, they also are providing successes for our students and our students are getting their high school equivalencies at the same time that they’re doing these academic level I certs, so it’s a two for one. They get this academic level I cert, they can go on in the same area, or they now have a success, a completion, they can stop out if they want, they can go work. It’s an in-demand occupation. Or, they can come back and do their associates degree. So, I absolutely love it for that. Now, because we are in a really robust economy, not only that, our students need to go out and make money, you know, for their families, because many of our students are coming to – probably all of ACC students are coming to change their lives, their economic situation. And so, with that, they’re navigating all these different things. Guided Pathways allows for success, stop out, success, stop out, and they don’t lose all the work they already did.

[Matthew Evins]: Yeah.

[Katherine Dowdy]: So, I love Guided Pathways and stackable credentials.

[Matthew Evins]: Great.

[Katherine Dowdy]: They’re cool.

[Matthew Evins]: Have you received any feedback from instructors on how Guided Pathways has influenced the student’s success in adult education courses?

[Katherine Dowdy]: And, when you say from instructors, you’re talking about adult ed instructors?

[Matthew Evins]: Yes, correct.

[Katherine Dowdy]: So, yeah, just, I mean, specifically about what I just mentioned about where we’ve seen it in Career Pathways, where we – I just celebrated, you have, you know, Riverbat Pride, we just celebrated five of our HSC grads, also walked with their academic level I certs in this past graduation just this past Friday. And, two of them are continuing on to their associate’s degrees. And, because we do very intrusive advising and support for our students, we are very familiar with their life challenges. Our very first student who we were sure, I mean, she had A’s and B’s and she only has one class in her academic level I cert in office administration. She has still not been able to complete that for different reasons, for different life events. And, what we love about it is that we still are very confident she will. We’re still reaching out. And so, Guided Pathways is great for that. It really allows, you know, shorter completions and like the OSAs and the MSAs, the marketable skills awards, so I don’t know who’s listening to this, but I just any time you do a stackable and you analyze it and you make sure there is embedded success points, it impacts students in such a very deep way. It is – I can’t tell you how life changing it is for students to see a completion. Even if they go on, if they start in one area and they divert over, many of our students are – most of our students are first generation and when they receive that, it’s not only a win for them, it’s a win for their families. And so, for all the people out there doing the hard data analysis on making sure that their degrees are stackable and short, you know, not having a lot of extraneous credits, it is impacting students every day in very real ways and families and communities. I know, I got really corny there, but it really, really is.

[Matthew Evins]: Okay. Are there any other projects or initiatives within adult education that would be beneficial for faculty and/or staff to know as it relates to Guided Pathways?

[Katherine Dowdy]: Adult education is bringing students into every single AOS and we are also – because our students can and go anywhere and everywhere. We have students that are going through the ANM, you know, the engineering program. We’re bringing them in all AOS and, of course, our college prep is really working on helping those students transition into many of the liberal arts and math and sciences and then, of course, Career Pathways is doing that similar work, more for DMCAT, IT, business and so forth. So, we are working hard to get the students prepared and ready. One of the things is that we do pay for in our Career Pathways, we are paying for academic – not all of them, but we’re paying for MSAs and OSAs in the DMCAT area, the IT area and the business area. And, when I say paying, we are literally paying their tuition and books and so forth. So, most of those areas are already aware, but it’s good for faculty to know that —

[Matthew Evins]: Absolutely.

[Katherine Dowdy]: — if they have students struggling in any of those academic level I’s, well not any of them, so please go to our website and check it out, because we don’t want students to be promised things that we aren’t able to give them. But we are – just that we exist and we – college prep is doing a lot of work on helping those students where the [inaudible] is a little too fast. So, sending them over to us to help them with their developmental education. Of course, we always – that’s Michelle [assumed spelling] from – used to be with Hospitality. We work with her a lot, with Guided Pathways and Hospitality. I’m sorry, I’m getting – I just want to make sure, because I feel like we’re coming to an end. Just know that adult ed students are strong and they enjoy your programs. And, we’re out there helping and we’re free. We are free.

[Matthew Evins]: Great.

[Katherine Dowdy]: So.

[Matthew Evins]: I know you just mentioned a couple minutes ago about the graduation that just happened this past weekend. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention that’s giving Riverbat Pride?

[Katherine Dowdy]: You know, I mean, our graduates are – I think, our HSC grads too. I always feel super, super proud of our HSC. I’m also – we are strengthening our ESL/ESOL connection and collaboration, which the stronger that is, the better it is for non-native speakers because they can really get confused moving throughout the college and I appreciate all that Shannon’s [assumed spelling] doing in her ESOL Department to connect with us and to help bridge that gap. And, just in general, I feel like the college is working towards more collaboration and the more we do, the better it is for the students.

[Matthew Evins]: Excellent. Well, that wraps up another episode of Teaching and Learning Champions. Don’t forget that you can view a blog post for each episode on the TL website. I also encourage you to subscribe to the ACC District podcasts on any of your preferred podcast apps or listen to individual episodes on the TL website. Thank you for tuning in and we’ll chat next time on TLC at ACC.

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