Final project report: What happens when students engage in a series of self-reflective and explorative exercises related to job interest, needs and abilities?

Inquiry Project Proposal

Marie Crecca-Romero, June 10, 2002

Transition to College

How does an ABE-to-College Project help adults reach their dreams?

"Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves."
Maria Rainer Rilke


When I first began this Inquiry Project, my goal was to explore the relationship between the Transition to College program and the ultimate success of the students who enroll. Since the magnitude of this task entailed more time than could be given in a short time period, I decided a beginning step toward understanding such a relationship would be to first present the basic components. By looking at the program as a whole, I would then later be able to inquire about the specific parts.

The Story of the Question

Since this was my first Inquiry Project, I began by inquiring into the idea of action research itself. In the process, I came upon a quotation by Maria Rainer Rilke that has been meaningful to me since my own college years as an older adult returning to school. "Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." As I attempted to resolve this inquiry process, vivid memories of the fears, insecurities, and the many questions I had as a beginning adult college student began to emerge.

As I reread Rilke's words, I wondered about my role in teacher inquiry. I thought about the personal connection I felt toward the students enrolled in Transition to College, and wondered how I could help the students alleviate the fears and insecurities that I once had felt when I returned to college as an older adult. I began to look at the benefits of this program from a personal standpoint, and realized how much the students seemed to rely on TC as a means of fulfilling their dreams of going to college. I also wondered how to formulate a meaningful inquiry question that would enable me to evaluate the structure of the program and determine its effectiveness. It seemed inevitable that many questions would surface during this project, and I tried to do as Rilke had suggested and "be patient in what is unresolved and love the questions themselves." I realized that the plethora of questions themselves were very important to the entire process. Ultimately, I decided to inquiry about the overall structure of TC, and will attempt to describe the components that make up the program. By so doing, I will be able to better evaluate the different parts, and subsequently determine their individual effectiveness. I will begin with the story of who I am and what led me to teacher inquiry.

For the past several years, I have taught GED and ESL in an urban city to a multi-cultural adult population. Now I have the privilege of coordinating and teaching Transition to College (TC), a pre-college program for adults wanting to continue their education, but needing support and counseling to ensure success in college. Most of the students have recently received their GED, and needed further preparation for college study.

When I first began to work in TC, I didn¹t realize how much my own personal background would help me construct this program to meet the diverse needs of an inner-city population. Many of the students are non-native speakers of English, and they bring with them many negative experiences of prior schooling, as well as numerous insecurities. My first questions began to emerge. How could I design a program to help students overcome the negative aspects of their lives, and motivate them to set and reach new goals? How could I help them to realize that college, in fact, is an attainable goal that will not only enrich them personally, but also offer them many career opportunities?

I thought back to the initial fear and anxiety I had felt returning to school after many, many years. Like many of my own students, I had been a single mom raising three children, working, and trying to survive a difficult divorce. My own self-confidence was nil, and I did not have the benefit of a transitional program to lead me on a better journey. What I did have was the support and encouragement of a friend, without which, I am not certain I would have succeeded. This realization is paramount in my mind as I attempted to plan and coordination TC. I realized that the best thing I could offer my students, if they were to succeed, was an opportunity to build their self-esteem, encouragement to reach their goals, and ongoing support.

Approximately two years ago, when I was asked to participate in an ABE-to-College program, I knew very little about ABE-to-College in adult literacy programs. What I did know was that I enjoyed working with adults, and specifically felt that I could relate to their needs for wanting a better life. My previous work as an ESL/GED teacher had put me in touch with adults from many countries, most of whom were in pursuit of an improved life. I hoped that my desire to help others, my willingness to listen, my teaching experience, and my own personal journey, would enable me to participate in this transitional program in an effective way. As more and more questions arose, I began to pave the way toward a fairly comprehensive program, changing things as needed along the way. Using a trial and error approach, I hoped that I would be able to offer the students the opportunity to overcome their fears, build their self-esteem, and assist them toward an educational path that could help them realize their dreams.

I began to read literature regarding adults returning to college and the problems they faced. I knew that college graduates can earn nearly double the wages of high school graduates, and that this income gap would only increase in the coming years. The research suggested that for many adult literacy program graduates to reap these benefits and succeed in post-secondary education, they need additional academic preparation and counseling. The New England ABE-to-College Transition Project responded to this need by providing college transition services that include instruction in college level reading and writing, algebra, college survival and study skills, and educational and career counseling. ( NELRC web page).

Other studies suggested that transitional programs could further assist students in overcoming barriers to persistence, build confidence, and promote success. The three main aspects to aid in student persistence were of utmost importance: setting specific goals, being motivated, and having supportive relationships. (F/B March 2000) These characteristics, provided by the counseling component, are the main tenets of Transition to College. I believe that this component of the program is the "glue" that provides these basic elements.

In our program, there is a high value placed on helping students define and overcome barriers to success. However, at times, situational barriers beyond the control of the program interfere with student persistence in reaching their goals. Some students need additional support if they are going to persevere toward their ultimate goal. Oftentimes, the supportive relationship between the teachers, counselor and the students paves the way for continued determination. In an attempt to provide a range of support for our students, TC is modeled upon current research that suggests four areas necessary to focus on: 1) Awareness and management of the positive and negative forces that help and hinder persistence, 2) Self-efficacy, focusing on a specific task, and feeling a sense of accomplishment, 3) Establishment of a goal, and 4) Making progress toward reaching that goal. (F/B John Cummings March 2000).

In light of these statistics, our Transition to College program is dedicated to improving the lives of these adults. Through pursuit of a higher education, our program attempts to create a supportive learning environment that builds upon what students already know, helping them to reflect on their skills as they build confidence in their potential to be successful in college. The following information attempts to show the components of this special program beginning with the various data accumulated for this project.

The Data . . . "It's All Data"

It is apparent that everything that is connected to running TC could be considered data, from the initial conversation with a perspective student, to the final report at the end of a session. For the sake of this Inquiry Project, I will begin with some basic assumptions of TC as data, and attempt to validate these assumptions by the data

  • TC will build self-confidence in students
  • TC will improve academic skills
  • TC will encourage enrollment in college
  • TC will help develop career goals
  • TC will encourage student persistence
  • TC will benefit perspective students
  • Data Categories


    The administrative portion of the program deals with the budget, the program design, reporting, student evaluations, and exit documentation.

    Recruitment and Enrollment

    Students are recruited bi-yearly. After receiving an invitation to attend the program, students attend an Information Session to learn more about the program. Most recruitment is done through GED test centers, community-based organizations, One-Stop Career Centers, newspaper advertisements. It is necessary to recruit between fifty and sixty people to enroll a class of twenty students.


    After the initial contact, students must complete a registration form with personal and demographic information, and complete a confidentiality statement. The intake process is very important as it sets the stage for student readiness to participate in the program. An initial interview is held to discuss the following topics: employment, childcare, transportation, motivation, long and short-term goals, career interests, learning styles, academic strengths and weaknesses, commitment to the program.


    Students must complete a standardized test (CASAS) and writing sample. To enter the program, they should assess between 7th and 9th grade or above, in reading and math. Students are post tested at the end of the session. Other assessments include: teacher-made tests, journals, career assessments, interests inventories, personality inventories, journals, and interviews.


    Students attend an Information Session where the following areas are outlined: Program Overview, Student Responsibilities, Attendance policy, Criteria for Course Completion, Course Content, Counseling opportunities.

    Relationship with Collaborating College

    Most students enroll in the local community college. It is very important to establish a relationship with the college so TC students can be supported. We have attempted to establish relationships in the following areas at CCRI: Enrollment Services, Advising and Counseling, Financial Aid, The Writing Center, Developmental Studies, Resource Center. The program culminates with a tour of the college campus and library.


    The counseling component is "the glue and binds the program together". The following areas are under this component: Recruitment, Relationship-building, Goal Setting, Career Exploration, Facilitation of Workshops: Career, Study Skills, Financial Aid, Time and Stress Management, Learning Styles, Memory Aids. Also included are the development of retention strategies, support and counseling of students, collaboration with teachers, and integration of counseling objectives into the classroom.

    Curriculum and Instruction

    The curriculum and instruction is flexible and attempts to meet the needs of the class. Goals are set and clear classroom expectations are given. Instruction is creative and developed with a good understanding of the collaborating colleges academic expectations. Students are provided with course outlines. The writing component is divided into two sections ­ Composition writing and ESL Grammar/ Paragraph writing. The overall program is divided into the following educational components:

    Academic Skills

    Reading and Study Skills, Writing and Study Skills, Mathematics and Study Skills

    Computer Basics

    This is a hands-on approach to computer skills. Students are introduced to Microsoft Word, and the Internet. The teacher interacts with the writing instructor to assist students in research projects.

    Survival Skills

    This component offers the following: Introduction to College, Goal Setting, Time and Stress Management, Study Skills, Listening skills, Note-taking, and Test-taking strategies

    Other Data used to evaluate the program

    Initial Student Interviews Student Reflections Intake form Mid-term class evaluation Registration Form Student program evaluation GED Scores Final Student Interview Demographic Information Review of goals & "next step" Personal & Professional goals Program Overview Potential Barriers to program completion Flyers Computer Questionnaire Newsletter Pre/Post CASAS Assessment Reports Pre/Post Writing Assessment Tracking information Brochure Program Reporting ­ "NUMBERS" Counseling Notes Recruitment numbers Case Studies Enrollment numbers Attendance Completion numbers Site Visits Enrollment in college numbers Workshops Enrollment in certificate program Repetition of Course Successful completion of 1st semester in college Continued persistence toward goals

    The Findings

    (See below: What Lesson Have I Learned From Transition to College Students?)

    The Implications

    Programs such as this Transition to College program are greatly needed to assist older adult returning to college. The lives of this population can be deeply enriched and benefited by attaining a college education. Without the support and additional preparation for career and college planning, many students will never have the chance to fulfill their dreams of a better life. The following quotations summarize the overall implications for prospective students. "The Transition to College program is dedicated to improving the lives of GED graduates through pursing higher education and better careers." "The Transition to College program creates a learning environment for students that builds on what they already know, helps them reflect on their skills, and builds confidence in their potential to be successful in college."

    "This is a wonderful program that has changed my life. A goal that I thought was impossible has now become a reality! It should be available to more people, and I hope it keeps growing." TTC student

    Comings, John (2001). Sharing What NASCALL is Learning Focus on Basics Vol 4, Issue D € April 2001

    Comings, John (2000). Helping Adults Persist: Four Supports. Focus on BasicsVol 4, Issue A € March 00 .

    Comings, John (1999). Persistence among Adult Basic Education Students in Pre-Ged Classes


    Eric_No. ED 452359 (2001).Hensley, Laura G; Kinser, Kevin. "Adult Learner Persistence: A study of Tenacity".

    Kallenbach, Silja (2000). "New England ABE-to-College Transition Projects Starts This Spring". In Bright Ideas (Vol. 9, No.4)

    Reuys, Steve (2000) Helping Students Take the "Next Step" to College. Bright Ideas, Vol. 9, No 4.

    Ziemba, Dave (2000) Cape Cod Students Succeed in Transition to College. Bright Ideas, Vol. 9, No. 4

    What Lessons Have I learned From Transition to College Students?

    As coordinator and counselor of the Transition to College program, I am one of the first persons with whom potential students come in contact. I have learned that the initial communication with students is very important as it sets the stage for their perseverance in the program, and ultimate continuation of their educational goals. Most of the students come to the program after having recently received their GED diploma, and have subsequently been invited to learn ways that will help them prepare further for college.

    Students come to this Transition to College with varying degrees of self-confidence in their ability to succeed beyond a GED. For some, until they have been invited to learn about this program, the idea of going to college is very far away. The overall goal of this program is to motivate students to continue their education, to follow their dreams for a better life, and to explore new career choices. Building their self-esteem has been the underlying premise of this program that will encourage them to reach their goals.

    The Transition to College program encourages students to see their full potential and tries to motivate them to persist in their goals. The program begins with a Career Exploration and Development component that enables students to assess their interests, abilities, and personality. This self-discovery process is a first step in strengthening their self-esteem.

    The program moves from an initial career search to College Readiness and Study Skills workshops. Students begin by taking a learning style inventory on the computer that enables them to better understand their own unique personalities in relation to the best way for them to learn and be successful. For some students, this introduction to the computer and Internet is a first-time experience. They also discover ways to better manage their time and reduce stresses in their lives. These new understandings open their minds as they begin to focus on new potentials and possibilities for their lives.

    The academic portion of the program is divided into reading, writing, math, computer, and study skills. The uniqueness of this program is strengthened by the dedication and commitment of the teachers who provide the students with the necessary skills for success in college. There is an underlying tenet of understanding and personal commitment to the studentís success that empowers the students to move forward and reach for higher goals.

    Many students bring to this program a range of personal stories and insecurities that could inhibit learning and ultimate success. However, the strength of this program comes through the counseling component and the dedication to insure student success. This relationship provides an ongoing means to help mediate studentís needs, fears, or other possible barriers to success, during the length of the program, and often beyond.

    What have I learned from the students who enroll in Transition to College?

    I have learned that basic skills can be learned and nurtured through self-discovery. More importantly, a desire to succeed can be nurtured through caring, motivating relationships. Students can move beyond their initial insecurities, learn to acknowledge both their strengths and weaknesses, and discover strategies to become successful. Self-confidence can be built and students can be empowered to reach their dreams. With these tools, anything becomes possible.

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