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Why Save ABE?

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

Adult Basic Education (ABE) in Montgomery County is truly a county-wide proposition. The ramifications of helping our economic development efforts and lowering the poverty level while helping people improve their lives are significant. In 2011, Independence Community College (ICC) joined a consortium led by Neosho County Community College (NCCC) in the creation of Eastern Kansas Adult Education. The consortium leverages available state and federal grant funding to provide these services. 

According to NCCC president Brian Inbody, Adult Education services are geared for those hardest-to-serve, and most of our initiatives are directed at individuals living in poverty and how we can help them improve their lives through increased basic skills and workforce skills. Changing a mindset is a powerful thing, and Adult Education can do just that.”  

There used to be several locations in Montgomery County where people could receive ABE services. Some offered only computer-based curriculum. One thing I’ve learned since coming to ICC, taking traditional curriculum and boxing it up in a computer does not make it any easier to learn, especially if you didn’t do well in the class room anyway. 

Now there is only one, ICC offering live, personal instruction. The closest alternate location is in Chanute and most potential ABE participants can’t afford that much driving several days each week for the year or two as they work toward what is commonly referred to as GED, however in our state, it’s called the Kansas State High School Diploma. Most of us take our high school diploma for granted. Many of these people don’t have one and they now realize getting one will change their lives for the better. 

In the years since 2006 when I started at ICC there have been several periods of renewed effort toward increased economic development across Montgomery County and the surrounding areas. One of the first I remember was after the great flood of 2007. Today we have a good combination of economic development efforts by helping small business and entrepreneurs at the same time we try to lure large companies to come to the area. 

One topic that’s dominated every meeting I’ve ever attended related to economic development has been the shortage of available work force and the skill-shortage of the work force we have. The dreaded “soft skill” shortage is always a big part of the conversation too. 

We—Fab Lab ICC staff--discovered last summer that ABE participants represent a sizeable and untapped resource for trained, enthusiastic and versatile participants in the local and area economy, ready to learn whatever is needed to be successful, whether as engaged employees or as small business owners and contractors.  

This all came to our attention last spring when, under the ever-present budget pressure of small, rural community colleges, ICC considered discontinuing the ABE program. We rallied some resources and convinced ICC to continue. In addition, we worked with long-time ABE instructor Dan Fossoy to move the ABE program to the Lab, moving toward incorporating project-based learning to comprise up to half of the learning time. We knew that Fab Lab experiential learning would energize the participants letting them see a new relevance for math, reading and science as necessary ingredients to make things work. 

The funding for this program is less than it would cost for the instructor and administration if we did it outside of the consortium. Since this is truly a county-wide benefit, (approximately 33% of participants each from Coffeyville and Independence; the remaining, from other parts of the county) we are seeking resource partners to share in the cost. 

The number of folks in the county that could benefit from ABE range from dozens to legions although historically many don’t participate. It is logical. These folks did not do well in traditional high school. Perhaps they don’t learn well with the one (out of ten methods of learning) traditional teaching method used in most high schools over the last 50 years. Perhaps they had family or life challenges get in the way. We believe the numbers will grow as participants tell their friends about the satisfaction of learning in the Fab Lab environment.  

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  

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