College for a Day: Lighting the Path for Adult Learners to Go On to College and Careers

It is so important that our students actually see what’s out there. Their immediate goal is a GED or a high school diploma, but the long-term goal is to earn a livable wage. The one-to-two-year programs that these community colleges offer are a manageable amount of time for our students, because they know that if they get their certificates they will be employable.

College for a Day is a great idea because it takes some of the mystique away from the often overwhelming idea of college.

The experience of being on a campus, seeing what a syllabus looks like, sitting in a lecture hall, it’s a visceral experience. And that makes our students realize that it is attainable.

– Teachers from Boston-area adult education programs

The College for a Day project developed quite a following among Boston-area adult education programs. The quotes above are from teachers who have brought their students to attend the College for a Day events year after year. College for a Day began when the National College Transition Network (NCTN) profiled a promising practice from Northern Essex Community College and Austin Community College in 2008. This promising practice generated a lot of interest from the field and we sought support to replicate this practice in the Boston area, working with 15 adult education programs and 6 local colleges. This project was supported by the State Street Foundation in 2010-2012 and by the Shapiro Foundation till 2015.

As adult education programs are motivating and preparing their students to be college and career ready, the fear of the unknown and unfamiliarity with college culture can become a significant mental and emotional barrier for the students. To promote college and career readiness, we developed four modules with content that addressed personal readiness, college knowledge, career awareness, and planning. These modules utilize existing NCTN resources like the Integrating Career Awareness curriculum and the College for Adults website with a focus on increasing adults’ understanding of their own interests and aptitudes for high-demand jobs. The modules were developed for ease of integration into existing program curricula and training was provided to the teachers to help them integrate this material into their classes.

I found out that the Economics teacher was an immigrant and was in the same situation as I’m going through right now. She gave us a great example of how successful immigrants can be in the States. 

– Student from Adult Ed Program

College for a Day exposed adults to college through direct experience. The project activities entailed a variety of experiences on the college campus, including participation in sample classes taught by college professors, guided tours, student panels, and presentations by college representatives from the Admissions, Academic Support, Career Center, and Financial Aid offices. In today’s education landscape, there is a strong overlap between career readiness and college readiness skills. In order for adult students to succeed in advanced training and education, services need to be delivered in such a way that students develop a positive attitude toward school (Bean, 2005). The project and its activities help to build this positive attitude through college visits as they develop their college and career readiness skills. The core of this project is based on building and supporting a college-going culture in adult education programs by creating college awareness and nurturing students’ confidence to enroll and succeed in college.

Event Structure

In a given year, over 500 students attended the six events, with up to 130 students attending a single event. Adult learners from 15 participating Boston-area adult education programs participated in one or more of the 6 College for a Day events organized by NCTN. A typical agenda for these events consisted of the following:

  • Check-In and Registration: As the adult students arrive, they register to attend the event in an information area that is set up specifically for them. They then sign up for the sample class they are planning to attend. They are given an orientation packet containing the day’s agenda, college application form, and contact information for the admissions and financial aid staff.
  • Welcoming Remarks are given by the Dean of Admissions or their designee. The students are also welcomed by the staff from the Student Services, Registrars’ office etc.
  • College Tour: The students are taken on a college tour by the college staff.
  • Sample Classes: Students attend the sample class that they have registered for and spend an hour interacting with the college faculty, getting a taste of the academic rigor needed for various programs and asking questions about the course, college and the credential/degree programs.
  • Student Panel: A carefully selected college student panel, which consists of nontraditional students who are taking the classes that adult students have attended, talk about their college experience. The adult students also get to ask the panelists any range of questions from homework load to childcare challenges.
  • Closing Remarks are given by someone from the college admissions staff and next steps are explained in terms of admissions, office timings, other open house opportunities, or how to set up an appointment with an admissions or financial aid counselor.

The feedback from the college faculty who taught the sample classes was very encouraging. They enjoyed interacting with the students and sharing more information about the credential/degree programs the college has to offer. The sample classes were the most popular part of the event. Sample class topics included Architectural Technology, Automotive Technology, Computer Technology, Electrical Technology, Ophthalmic Assisting, College Experience, Introduction to Psychology, and Nursing, to name a few. Some sample classes have been recorded by the NCTN staff and the videos are posted on NCTN’s YouTube channel. The participating colleges include, Bunker Hill Community College, Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, Cambridge College, Roxbury Community College, Lesley University, and Urban College.

I really enjoyed everything, it was very well organized, everything from the speakers to the teachers to how we got put in to different groups and we got to experience how a college classroom looked. I also enjoyed the way the professor taught the class.

– Student from Adult Ed Program

The student panel at the events consisted of either students who are excelling in the sample classes or students who are nontraditional students themselves, and sometimes alumni from the participating adult education programs. The students from the adult education programs felt very comfortable in asking questions about both the academic and the non-academic experiences of the student panelists. The program staff, including teachers and counselors, also appreciated the event as they get an opportunity to talk to the college faculty about specific students who are interested in joining a particular program.

Retrospective Survey

We developed a brief retrospective survey with questions that touch on the key components of the our college and career readiness model. Here are some of the survey findings:

  • After attending a College for a Day event, 82% of students had a good or excellent understanding of college terms, compared to only 41% beforehand.
  • The percentage of students who said they knew a little or a lot about how to use key college departments increased from 64% to 96% after attending a College for a Day event.
  • The percentage of students who said they knew a little or a lot about the steps to a career pathway by attending college increased from 63% to 93% after attending a College for a Day event.

The learning gains were significant for financial aid and understanding for career pathways and notable for the general understanding of how college works. Overall, 75% of the participating Adult Secondary and ESOL learners surveyed showed measurable gains in three aspects of college readiness: college knowledge, personal readiness, and career awareness and planning. The participating adult educators also increased their understanding of the components of college readiness, and how to teach adults college-related knowledge and skills.

Since the launching of this project, it has received a lot of attention from adult education programs, both locally and nationally. Do you provide a similar opportunity for your students? We would love to hear from you about your students’ experiences and your perspective on this practice.

For more information about College for a Day, contact the project director Priyanka Sharma at