How do the nearly 500,000 adults with skills gaps access career pathways programming in Chicago? What supports can help adults enter these programs and move into a well-paying career?

On May 1st, the Coalition attempted to answer those questions by hosting its first-ever Data-to-Action Summit where we shared preliminary research findings and recommendations from our research project with Penn State University, Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants: A Comparative Analysis of Adult Education Providers in High-Need Cities. The project, a partnership between researchers at the Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy at Penn State University and practitioners at the Coalition, the Houston Center for Literacy, and the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, assessed how adults with skills gaps access career pathways programs in Chicago, Houston, and Miami. The event brought together dozens of practitioners and key stakeholders to discuss the findings and create concrete next steps to move the research findings to action. A special thank you to JPMorgan Chase for hosting the Summit at Chase Tower.

EstherspresentationThe two-year study, funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (grant #R305HI50047), surveyed 106 adult education programs that collectively serve 282,000 participants. Additionally, 18 programs participated in focus groups, and six programs will be featured in case studies to understand how they design and implement career pathways and what lessons this might offer other programs. The study revealed information about how adult learners access career pathways, the types of support services offered by programs, and adult learner outcomes. Read our preliminary findings and recommendations below.


Most career pathways classes have a minimum test score, grade level, or language thresholds for enrollment. About 69% of career pathways students placed at a beginning to low intermediate adult basic education (ABE) or English as a Second Language (ESL) level. Minimum threshold requirements may create barriers for adults with lower placement scores or levels of education; adult learners need to have viable on-ramps to access career pathways programming. Effective policy should aim to serve the hardest-to-reach students, and policy makers should support facilitating partnerships so students can access the programs they need.

Support Services

markandoswaldo Exemplary programs offer a full range of support services and programmatic features to address student barriers. Offering comprehensive services goes beyond supports that mitigate traditional barriers such as transportation and childcare. Exemplary programs offered supports that addressed other aspects of learners’ lives, like bad credit and lack of access to income supports. Policy makers should aim to increase funding for robust services to help programs offer services that address adult learners’ well-being.


Interim outcomes help programs create effective pathways because they measure student progress towards longer-term goals. Throughout the research, a lack of common measures across programs stood out as a barrier to measuring progress across programs. The most common measures were educational level gains on standardized tests (85%), attaining a high school or GED diploma (67%), and obtaining initial employment (55%). For pathways to be effective organizations will need to put measures in place to capture interim outcomes, and funders and policy makers should prioritize the importance of these interim outcomes.


To learn more about the research, visit the project’s website, found here. To access resources from the May 1st event, including the powerpoint presentation, click here.

Interested in moving this data to action? Join our Career Pathways Advisory Council of practitioners and other stakeholders! For more information, contact Alex at

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