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Dec. 3, 2010
DURHAM -- Earlier in the fall, Christine Kelly- Cleese, the dean of student engagement and transitions at Durham Tech, was hopeful the money would come. She couldn't imagine that it wouldn't.
"This is such a valuable program," Kelly- Cleese said. "We need to keep it going and we need to expand it."
Now the school can. Thanks to a $75,000 grant from the nonprofit Jobs for the Future, Durham Tech will be able to continue and expand the school's Breaking Through initiative. The award is part of a larger $1.9 million grant from the Walmart Foundation for Breaking Through, which helps low-literacy adults prepare for and succeed in occupational and technical degree programs.
The goal is to improve their economic outcomes by focusing on strategies that create effective pathways through pre-college and degree-level programs.
Begun five years ago as part of a national pilot project, Breaking Through -- funded initially by the GlaxoSmithKline Foundation -- is designed to move adult students, some of whom haven't been in a classroom in decades, from high-school dropout to college graduate.
Breaking Through is free to the students who qualify. Durham Tech hopes to enroll at least 1,000 adult students in the programs designed to help them advance through college coursework.
"Adult students have unique challenges: families, schedule conflicts with full- or part-time jobs, and many lack the appropriate English and math skills," said Maria Flynn, a vice president at Jobs for the Future. "Our goal is to help colleges respond to the needs of these low-skilled students and keep them on track toward degrees that will earn them higher-paying jobs."
Breaking Through offers the students intense academic help, hands-on instructors, peer mentors and a program adviser. The students are carefully tracked and guided through the program and given financial incentives to continue.
According to the most recent data, the program is working. Over the past year, 75 percent of participants in Breaking Through, which operates at 35 community colleges in 18 states, successfully completed their program and entered credit pathways in construction, nursing, nurse's assistant certification and manufacturing. Of students who were unemployed before starting their program, 78 percent are now employed.
At Durham Tech, the persistence rate for Breaking Through -- the percentage of students who return to school -- was 90 percent, while the rate for a random sample of comparable non-BT students was 53 percent.
Program students transitioned from adult basic education to adult secondary education at higher rates than those not in the program. And the three-year graduation rate for BT students was 10 percent higher than that of non-BT students.
"Our Breaking Through initiative has shown significant gains for students who ... initially test at or below the 8.9 grade level in reading, English and/or mathematics," said Kelly-Kleese. "We have also seen gains for BT students earning the GED or Adult High School diploma and transitioning to college."