As community colleges nationwide seek out strategies to increase student success and degree completion, a program developed in Washington state is drawing attention. The Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program supports college students who need extra help developing their reading, writing, and English language skills so they can complete four-year degrees in a range of in-demand fields, including nursing, aeronautics, manufacturing, and information technologies, according to The Hechinger Report.
Traditionally, students who need basic skills support must complete pre-college remediation courses before taking degree-granting courses. However, students in the I-BEST program enroll in college-level classes led by two instructors: one who teaches career-technical skills and another who provides basic skills support in reading, math, or English language.
Launched in Washington state in the 2006-07 academic year to increase college-completion and occupational training for adults with low incomes, I-BEST’s team-teaching model has attracted a diverse group of students. More than 6,000 community college and technical college students are currently in the program, with enrollment increasing more than 20% in the last five years. Forty-six percent of I-BEST participants are students of color, 55% percent are women, and 39% have dependents, The Hechinger Report says.
Although I-BEST’s dual-teaching model makes it more expensive to implement than other adult basic education programs, a dozen states across the country have or are in the process of establishing its team-teaching model at one or more higher education institutions.
Data from Washington state shows that I-BEST has improved students’ graduation rates and academic outcomes. Among students who began college from 2015 to 2018, 52% of I-BEST students earned a degree or certificate within four years compared to 38% of students enrolled in traditional adult basic education coursework, according to the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
I-BEST also allows students who haven’t graduated high school to be eligible for federal financial aid. Under financial aid rules, students must either have a high school diploma or show they’re qualified to obtain a degree or certificate through being enrolled in a “career pathway program” like I-BEST.
Making a difference
The I-BEST program has not only boosted academic performance and college completion rates, but also reduced barriers to learning in the classroom by erasing the stigma around seeking assistance. This winter, I-BEST Students in Everett Community College’s (EvCC) Chemistry 121 class were taught by two instructors, Valerie Mosser, senior associate faculty in Chemistry, and her co-instructor Candace Ronhaar. “I’m an assessment instructor. She’s just a helping instructor,” Mosser told The Hechinger Report. “In the minds of students, the difference is incalculable. …They’re more willing to go to her, because she doesn’t grade them.”
Terrica Purvis, a first-year student in EvCC’s associate degree program in nursing, was one of six students in the class who was also taking an entry-level statistics class, which was also co-led by Ronhaar. “She’s my favorite instructor so far since I’ve been going to Everett,” Purvis said. “We needed her. She had to be there.”