CAP Helps Adult Students Uncap Potential

February 2, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Displaced workers who want to begin taking college classes but may not feel they are prepared now have an option, thanks to Michigan Works! and Grand Rapids Community College.

The Career Advancement Program, which takes place at GRCC’s Tassell Michigan Technical Education Center, was initiated last year, designed because of a need seen by Michigan Works, said George Waite, director of the Tassell M-TEC.

The program, referred to as CAP, is comprised of four classes that are bundled together to help prepare people for college classes. Participants in the cohort group take reading, writing, math and a computer class together for 15 weeks. Three sessions have taken place so far, with 13 students in the first two sessions and 18 students in the current session.

“They’re all adult learners and they need to get their academic skills polished up a little bit,” said Sandra Lancaster, associate director of employment services with Michigan Works.

Lancaster said the need for CAP arose because of the displaced workers who have been certified under the trade adjustment assistance program.

“Many of them haven’t been in school for 20 years, 15 years,” she said. “They’ve worked hard, they’re very dependable, they’re focused on their goals, and they find themselves with their skills not being needed in our marketplace anymore.

“We discovered that we may be setting people up for failure if we send them right to college.”

Many of the students who have completed the course are now signed up at various colleges, Waite said.

“I know that the majority of those folks are scheduled to enroll in college this semester,” he said of the most recent class.

Following completion of the classes by the third group, Waite said he would like to start offering the program on a larger scale.

Waite said the program is beneficial for those who have never gone to college or who have been in the workplace for years, because it gives them a way to improve their skills while easing into the college lifestyle.

“We’ve tried to make this a real friendly atmosphere for them,” he said.

The cost of the classes is $1,800, including textbooks and related materials.

“We’re very excited about the success,” Waite said. “According to some of the state data, there’s approximately 30,000 adults in our state that want to go to college, but aren’t quite ready to go to college.”

Waite said the ages have ranged from 23 to people in their 60s.

The students are not encouraged to study a particular subject when going on to college, but they are helped with their future career goals through spending time with a case manager at Michigan Works and with GRCC counselors.

Waite said a few of the students have chosen to study areas such as marketing, information technology, machine tooling and computers.

“There have just been a number of paths so far that the students have taken,” he said.

The program has improved with each class, Waite said. The current group started classes a week early to spend more time on computer training before starting the other subjects, after hearing suggestions from the first two sections.

“The computers were so foreign to them; they were getting homework assignments that required them to use the computer,” Waite said. “We’re giving them these computer skills upfront.”

Lancaster said the program has been a success in helping the participants prepare for college not only academically, but also personally.

“Another big thing that we see with our trade students is that their confidence is lacking,” she said. “The biggest part of that cohort group is they’re able to build their confidence, and that is incredible. It changes their lives to go on and pursue higher education and change their skills.”

Lancaster said the changes that the students go through are obvious at the celebration following completion of the class, when students have been known to share their stories with the group.

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