NIC adult education program utilizes partnerships: Profile featured on U.S. Department of Education website

When North Idaho College's Adult Basic Education (ABE) program began forming partnerships in its five-county northern Idaho service area, directors aimed to link programs that share clientele. Administrators knew that the collaboration would benefit the dozens of partners involved, but never dreamt that its network of partnerships would soon guide hundreds of other adult education programs across the nation by virtue of its selection as one of 12 programs featured on a U.S. Department of Education website highlighting the best practices in adult education partnerships. “It's an honor to be commended for the partnerships that we've worked hard to build and maintain,” NIC's ABE/GED Director Rex Fairfield said. The program provides adult basic education, high school equivalency training and testing and English as a Second Language to adults who have withdrawn from the public school system or who desire to upgrade their basic skills. The program is primarily funded by federal and state grants and receives partial in-kind funding from NIC. In addition to the 2,125 adults served by NIC ABE services last year, the program has caught the eye of other professionals in the field who recognize NIC's excellence in helping to reach an underserved population. A U.S. Department of Education official familiar with NIC's ABE program recommended it for review after learning of the department's Office of Vocational and Adult Education plans to create a website of best collaborative practices in adult education called “Community Partnerships for Adult Learning.” The Office of Vocational and Adult Education contracted MPR Associates, Inc., an education consulting firm in Washington, D.C, last year to find the nation's most innovative adult education programs that form collaborative relationships within their communities. Under the initiative, researchers aimed to create a website with the best practices for current and newly established ABE programs to use as a tool for other ABE programs to establish or enhance partnerships. Of the 12 programs featured, six include ABE programs with community college partners, but NIC's adult education program is the only one in which the community college took the lead in establishing the collaborative partnerships. After NIC was selected as a candidate for the website and after extensive documentation, two MPR researchers visited NIC's ABE program for one week in the spring of last year, interviewing staff and the program's nine most-utilized partner agencies for the evaluation. “We explained that our partnerships were born out of necessity,” said Fairfield, adding that the program provides services through five outreach centers in the five northern counties of Idaho, which encompass more than 7,660 square miles. “There's a lot of area to cover here and resources only go so far.” In all, NIC's ABE program has formed collaborative relationships with more than 30 agencies throughout the northern Idaho region, including the nine featured on the website, to ensure that all adult learners are receiving the services they need. Since service areas and programs overlapped, collaboration with other agencies was crucial to assist in recruiting, facility use, counseling services, staff development training and even shared grant writing opportunities, according to Fairfield. “We realized that there was no need for competition or duplication of services and that competing for the same client base hurt more than it helped,” Fairfield said. “All the services that our adult students needed were already in place. We just needed a network of agencies to help them navigate through the system to maximize expertise in all areas.” A successful collaboration is one in which each party benefits from the partnership, Fairfield said. For example, family obligations often prevent adults from seeking education or training, so ABE cooperates with the NIC Head Start program to fill that need for qualified families by providing childcare. Meanwhile, NIC's Head Start program benefits from access to an untapped segment of the population. A partnership with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare initiated a grant that now allows NIC's ABE program to provide the Job Education Training program, which teaches the fundamentals of entry-level jobs in office, health care and customer service positions for participants to achieve, retain or advance employment. “During the last quarter, the NIC Adult Education Center's Job Education Training program has placed 53 percent of targeted participants into employment, 100 percent have maintained job retention and 50 percent experienced wage enhancement,” said Ron Beecher of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. “Through this partnership, we are helping people improve their lives.” When the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor sees a client that fits the criteria for utilizing ABE services, they refer them to NIC's Adult Education Center. NIC's ABE program delivers adult education services and often sends newly-trained clients back to the labor department for job placement services. Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor staff members also work several hours per week at the NIC Adult Education Center for the convenience of the client. The collaboration continues within NIC as ABE is also the largest feeder source of new students for the college and many of its programs, including the Center for New Directions, Workforce Training and the Educational Opportunity Center of Northern Idaho (EOC). “EOC has a terrific relationship with the ABE program in Region I” said EOC Adviser Doug Burr. “Through contacts with outreach sites, EOC is able to help students throughout Idaho's five northern counties with the desire to pursue higher education. You could say that there is nearly a seamless track for students from academic preparation to the college application process as a result of EOC's working relationship with ABE centers. It works very well for students in northern Idaho.” Fairfield said that partnerships between ABE and other agencies have helped streamline the processes necessary for students to utilize these services. “These partnerships ensure that people don't get lost in the system or shuffled back and forth,” Fairfield said. “They have a point of contact and a familiar face at each organization, which makes them more comfortable with the process and ultimately more successful.” The Community Partnerships for Adult Learning website went live this spring.

For More Information
NIC ABE/GED Director Rex Fairfield, (208) 676-8005

Posted: Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004

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