The board discussed training offered by the program.
By Zachary-Taylor Wright
The district expressed interest in expanding the I-BEST program from the regional campuses to all of the Alamo Colleges during the Student Success Committee meeting Feb. 21 at Killen Center.
I-BEST is a program piloted by the district in 2010 with the goal of developing “sustainable models at the Alamo Colleges that deliver under-skilled students with training and education in high demand occupations,” according to the district website.
In an interview with The Ranger Feb. 22, Melissa Sadler-Nitu, director of adult basic education and Alamo I-BEST, or integrated basic education skills training, said the program is hoping to expand to all of the Alamo Colleges by the fall semester.
Sadler-Nitu said I-BEST courses are offered at both St. Philip’s campuses and the Westside Education and Training Center.
To accommodate the implementation of the program across the Alamo Colleges, Sadler-Nitu said the colleges will employ I-BEST “champions,” or advisers, to assist students.
Sadler-Nitu said students who elect to take a Level 1 certificate course in a high-target job area, who would like to get started on college courses without a diploma and students below an eighth-grade assessment level would be referred to an I-BEST adviser to discuss the program.
According to the presentation to the board Feb. 21, the program had 1,006 students enrolled and accepted, and 924 students completed or persisted in the program between 2010 and 2017 — a 90 percent retention rate.
Five hundred and six students, or 75 percent of the students who completed the program, have been verified as employed.
According to the presentation, 82.11 percent of students who entered the program between 2015 and 2016 completed training.
Training certificates offered through the program vary in length of training, including 16 weeks for a construction certificate, six months to a year for welding or information technology and 1 1/2 years to two years for a pharmacy technician certificate.
In a presentation showing the scaled projections for 600 Alamo Colleges students, I-BEST would like to see a complete or persist rate of 90 percent and a 75 percent employed rate.
During the Feb. 21 meeting, Sadler-Nitu said the program is working with 18 employers to help train students.
Sadler-Nitu presented a list of 11 employers to the board, including industry training in healthcare, manufacturing and hospitality.
District 9 trustee Jim Rindfuss said the program needed more employers to participate if it is to expand to all the Alamo Colleges.
District 1 trustee Joe Alderete asked if I-BEST could focus on jobs that won’t “trend out,” or lead to skilled employees searching for work outside of this city.
Alderete said electricians and engineers are looking for programs like this to meet the labor needs of the industries, saying training in these fields could lead to students becoming educated engineers or electricians.
Dr. Adena Loston, St. Philip’s College president, said electricians and engineers require apprenticeships and exams, saying these goals were not short term and did not accommodate the low-skill target of the I-BEST program.
District 6 trustee Gene Sprague said the program was not obligated to get “these people” on a four-year college trajectory, saying “developmental courses are a waste of money and we need to get these people in career entry-level pathways.”
Alderete advised the board and I-BEST to avoid relying solely on grant money, saying the program is a launching point “and once they’re launched, they’re going to want more. I guarantee they’re going to want more.”
District 8 trustee Clint Kingsbery said the board campaigned in Washington to get Pell Grants extended to accommodate smaller certificates and year-round grants.
In the interview, Sadler-Nitu said some certificates are eligible for Pell Grants because certificates can be defined in different ways.
Chair Yvonne Katz, District 7 trustee, asked if there was any way of “pipelining” the I-BEST program into the early college high school programs, which Sadler-Nitu said was in place.
President Robert Vela said the I-BEST program offers stackable certificates that can lead to an associate degree and “students have options who would typically take the TSI and fail and walk away.”
According to the College Board website, the Texas Success Initiative Assessment, or Accuplacer test, is an assessment administered to all incoming college students to determine if their skills are at a college level in reading, writing and mathematics.