One Story Worth Sharing: Community College Preparatory Academy

Washington DC’s reputation as a city of stark contrasts is well known – and it applies as much to education as any other slice of life. Half of the city’s adult residents hold a bachelor’s degree, but another third are functionally illiterate. The challenges faced by those without a high school diploma or access to higher education as they work to find a route out of poverty can seem unimaginable to their wealthier counterparts in neighbouring area codes.

So, this week, I want to share with you the story of the Community College Preparatory Academy (CC Prep), which was founded last year by a DC-area educator named Connie Spinner. CC Prep aims to increase the number of adults in their wage-earning years entering post-secondary education, and to give them the skills needed to enter the workforce. It recruits (among other groups), minority, female heads of household living at or below the poverty line, as well as young adults emerging from the the foster care system.

CC Prep is still in its infancy, but as Connie Spinner explains (you can hear from her here) it is off to a strong start. After its very first year, all of CC Prep’s college applicants will enter higher education at the freshman level, and all of its students have passed Computer Basics assessments. Furthermore, 80% of students tested passed national certifications; 75% of students who applied for jobs are now in work; and 50% of students tested passed the GED (that critical passport to higher education.)

What’s most encouraging is that CC Prep is achieving these big improvements in outcomes by adopting a blended, or a hybrid approach. A group of really skilled educators are working with students to build personalized learning plans, combining face-to-face, in-class time with online learning. For busy adults, this kind of personalisation and flexibility is badly needed.

Obviously, we all now want to see it grow and make an even deeper, and longer- lasting, impact on the educational attainment for many more struggling residents of DC. And I should declare an interest. Pearson is providing instructional services and solutions to CC Prep. We’re tracking their impact on learning outcomes closely, and working out how we can further improve their efficacy.

The story illustrates the important role education plays in ensuring that poverty is not destiny for many of our fellow citizens, wherever they live. But it also reminds us that thinking we have to choose between face-to-face teaching and online learning is a false dichotomy; both have their role to play. I’ll leave the final words to Connie Spinner to explain:

“[We put] our program at 2405 Martin Luther King Avenue, which is a major thoroughfare in Southeast Washington, less than a block and a half from a metro station, and where all the major bus lines run, so that our working poor people could easily get to school. And so that those people who really needed to get there could walk if necessary…that was an important first step for us…we tried to look at everything that an adult who is under-credited needs, and figure out how we can combine this new way of learning in a way that allows them to comfortably get ready to function in this knowledge based economy…we know that adults can learn how to learn online. We now know, and have tested, that they can learn new things about workforce, using online education. That’s critically important….that you can build communities of learning with technology.

…I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see how excited [our students] are about learning success. I mean, they applaud, they are up off their feet congratulating each other for academic success. This is a new experience for these adults.”

(This post was originally published on