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Washington's I-BEST Program Catches On

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December 27, 2013

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Not all teens or young adults who show up at college are ready to be there, but a program at Washington's community colleges has been so successful at transitioning them that it's gained national attention.

I-BEST turns seven in January. It stands for Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training.

A career-specific course is combined with basic reading and math skills, from two instructors in the same classroom.

Louisa Erickson, program administrator for adult education with the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, says an 88 percent course completion rate has spurred a lot of interest in I-BEST.

"We are doing more than fielding inquiries,” she explains. “We have, in the last year alone, worked with about 20 states that are already directly implementing and replicating I-BEST or I-BEST-like programs, or want to learn how."

She says about 3,500 Washington students have completed I-BEST programs in fields from health care and trades to aeronautics and engineering.

Erickson says often, lower-income students are one personal or financial crisis away from dropping out. So, part of I-BEST is helping them find the resources they need to stay in school, from housing or utility assistance to child care.

Today, she says, Washington's I-BEST students have higher grade-point averages than traditional community college students.

"And when they get into that program and they start experiencing that success, there's an absolute transformation, how they perceive themselves and also how they perceive their futures and where they can really go," she adds.

Erickson says changes to the federal Pell Grants for low-income students have effectively shut out some from being in the I-BEST program. The grants now are available only to students who already have a high school diploma or GED.

The state board hopes I-BEST's record will help prompt Congress to rethink that change.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA