The Literacy Network helps students get a better grasp on reading, writing and computer skills. But once learners work their way through the classes, they “tend to run into a glass ceiling of sorts,” said executive director Jeff Burkhart.
“Many of our students came to us and said, ‘We really want to go to Madison College, but we need this skill first, and mostly it’s English language skills,” Burkhart said. “It’s feeling more confident, it’s feeling better about your ability to succeed at the college.”
On Thursday, the Literacy Network announced that the Oscar Rennebohm Foundation has granted $300,000 over three years to expand classes and support services for adults looking to study at Madison College. That will help more non-native speakers earn degrees, Burkhart said.
“We’re trying to build a pipeline,” said Jennifer Peterson, senior director of tutoring.
Madison College will open a South Campus at 801 W. Badger Road in 2019, further strengthening the Literacy Network-Madison College connection.
The Literacy Network, founded in 1974, hosts programs for native English speakers as well as English as a Second Language courses for non-native speakers like immigrant and refugee students.
It also offers tutoring for adults working on a degree, whether that be a high school GED or a bachelor’s degree at Madison College. They’ve found that non-native English-speaking Madison College students enrolled in their tutoring saw a "304 percent increase in test scores, a 76 percent increase in attendance and were 21 percent more likely to enroll in an additional semester than those without tutoring," the Literacy Network said.
Thanks to the grant, the Literacy Network will do more to help students successfully transition to Madison College. The money will bring classes for higher-level English language learners to get students college-ready, as well as intensified academic advising and tutoring to help them navigate their next steps.
The Literacy Network has a student services team that does intake and goal-setting with all new students, but the funding will allow for “really strongly dedicated staff time” for advising, said Autumn Jackson, senior director of ESL classes.
Burkhart said that over three years, the expanded programming should help about 155 more people connect to Madison College and other job training programs. Last year, the organization served over 1,000 adults in 34 locations around Dane County.
MATC President Jack Daniels said the effort could help transition students into skilled training programs. He said he hears from employers every day that they don’t have enough employees to meet demand.
The $300,000 gift from the Rennebohm Foundation will pay for the majority of the expanded services, though the Literacy Network is still looking for additional money to fund the $486,879 project.