Representatives from Independence Community College (ICC) and the community met Friday at Fab Lab ICC to discuss various options for sustaining the college’s adult basic education (ABE) and GED programs in light of the college’s resource constraints.
The group discussed several scenarios for bolstering the program and allowing the college to continue its adult education offerings for the benefit of the broader community. One such solution was a proposal from Fab Lab ICC to administer of the GED program as a natural pairing with its new “Fab Force” certificate program. Fab Force is designed to offer both traditional and non-traditional students training in a diversified array of skillsets, from hands-on production to problem solving and entrepreneurial mindset.
“We believe the Fab Lab environment of making things and learning through hands-on experience is an effective learning tool for a lot of different people,” said Fab Lab ICC Director Jim Correll. “For whatever reason, the folks who need an adult education program weren’t able to complete K-12 education in the traditional school setting. We think those folks could thrive in an environment like ours.”
Facilitated by ICC adult education instructor Dan Fossoy, a panel of recent and current GED program students addressed the audience to share their experience and how they have benefited from the program. Panel participant Davin DeTar noted that he recently completed the GED program in less than six months and has since found employment at Fab Lab ICC through the KansasWorks placement program.
“I got to have the full graduation experience, wearing the cap and gown and walking on stage,” DeTar said. “And thanks to the GED program, I got a good job that I love. I love working in this environment.”
Roy Simpson has been working through GED classes full-time for the past two and half years while also holding down a full-time job. Remarkably, Fossoy noted, in a program that meets year round with no summer break, Simpson has missed class on less than 10 occasions. Once he obtains his GED, Simpson plans to continue his education at a vocational school.
“The program has benefited me in a lot of ways,” Simpson said. “It kind of changes your whole outlook on life.”
The third panelist, Manuel Tuberville, noted he has taken a winding path through the GED program, with starts and stops due to various life circumstances, but he is on track to graduate soon and plans to later join the United States Army.
“I would have never been able to join the Army without this program,” Tuberville said. “I’ve got new doors opened up for me and new horizons I can finally see. All I have to do is take that step and get to where I want to be.”
With 23 years of experience teaching adult education at ICC, Fossoy said, “I work with the best students in the world. Some of them go to work full time and have to manage several challenges to complete our program. It takes a lot of grit, and I’ve seen how the program changes lives.”
During the meeting, a second panel was engaged to provide insight into how the program interfaces with other community organizations and ongoing education at ICC. The panel included Melissa Johnson, Youth Program Director at Southeast KansasWorks, a key partner organization for ICC’s ABE and GED programs, and Melissa Ashford, ICC associate professor of Business and Computer Technology. Johnson noted the availability of local adult education programs is vitally important to the mission of KansasWorks, which helps individuals with various life challenges find sustainable employment. More often than not, Johnson said, her organization’s clients are in need of additional basic skills training in order to qualify for employment. An adult basic education partner, in fact, is mandated for grant funding supplied to KansasWorks through the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
“An estimated 85 percent of the jobs available to our clients require a high school diploma, and of the jobs that don’t, there are fewer and fewer opportunities available that provide a self-sufficient wage,” Johnson said. “Adult basic education and the GED program are invaluable assets that we simply cannot afford to lose.”
Ashford elaborated on the development of the Fab Force certificate program and how those offerings could further boost employability of GED graduates as well as college enrollment figures. She also noted that there are several courses at ICC that allow for “co-enrollment” with adult basic education courses and therefore present another opportunity for the college to recoup expenses in the form of per-student state and federal reimbursements that support enrollment.
ICC Board of Trustees President and longtime education advocate Val DeFever attended the meeting to hear the perspectives of the stakeholders involved. While the ABE/GED program appears to have been restructured for the coming academic year to significantly scale down the hours of classes offered and may potentially face elimination, DeFever and others at the meeting were somewhat uncertain as to whether the program’s fate had been sealed. She said the board needs to revisit the issue and clarify its standing.
“We will get this issue moved to the front burner,” she said.
Tim Haynes, Fab Lab ICC manager, facilitated additional brainstorming regarding the costs and potential funding sources for the program and how the Fab Lab might further enhance the adult education program, if given the opportunity.
“At the Fab Lab, we really have redefined the word ‘failure’ as a learning opportunity,” Haynes said. “For whatever reason, those who seek a GED have not managed to successfully navigate the traditional education structure. Everyone doesn’t learn in the same way, and we’d like to have a shot at providing an alternative learning experience for these students at the Fab Lab.”