Barbara Olsen's Retention Strategies for Adult Learners
Adult Ed program in the Colorado Springs District 11 School District


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I teach for District 11 in Colorado Springs.  Our program barriers are probably similar to other Adult Education program barriers.  Assigning classes and schedules that fit with ‘the student’s family and work needs’ can be challenging.  Helping students get past the bureaucracy and any negative attitudes about school or self needs to be a goal.  If these barriers are not addressed, the student may drop out.

1.  Program Population:

Our program serves all levels: 0 to 12.9+    16 years of age and older

We offer Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Adult Secondary Education (ASE) classes at my site.

2.  Positive Retention Practices in place for our students:

I spoke with my program director to identify our retention practices.  I suggested our flexibility with student’s family and work schedules… and our flexibility with changing classes that aren’t meeting student’s needs.  For students that have proven their commitment to coming to school, we are able to help with ‘some’ book or school fees which addresses the money barrier.  We also try to call students if we don’t hear from them when they are absent to let them know we really do care about them.

My director thought our “tighter attendance policy this year had helped”.  Students that really commit to staying… do… and those that don’t… leave(maybe before 12 hours).  I guess on paper, it looks like a higher percentage was retained.  I’m not sure how that works because I thought once they enrolled they showed up on the record.   We do other things, too.  We try to be pleasant, approachable, and helpful.

3.  My own student population is about to change.   In the past I have taught mostly ASE.  Next year, I will have mostly ABE plus a pre-ASE reading and math.  I thought I might try the following NEW practices to help increase retention:

~  give a questionnaire to identify some of the cultures they bring with them so I can make it easier for them to learn and stay motivated.  Hopefully, once hooked on learning .. it will become a lifelong activity.

~  make a real effort to help them define/write their goals in ways that they think are reachable; help them experience success.  I have a poster in my room that says: “Your teacher’s goal is simple….to help you reach yours”.   Hopefully, they can see that goals don’t have to be huge… baby steps work…and they can make them for themselves.

~  chart and study which students tend to drop out so I might try harder to reach those types of students before they leave.

~  add more things that connect students to community: speakers, field trips; make them feel they are valuable, contributing members of our group and the community.

~  talk about middle class values that rule work and school; help them understand and connect with those expectations; help them see options for succeeding at work and school; as well as paths to continued learning.  Most people who think they are receiving valuable information keep coming back for more.

~  I thought I might even try to have a Coffee Shop.. somehow.  I haven’t figured it out yet… but I have a coffee maker… and maybe we could talk ‘over coffee’ every other week for 10 minutes.   I know some cultures think school should be all business.. so we will just have to see what we can come up with.  Discussing issues, supporting each other, and networking encourage lifelong learning.  

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