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Practices with Promise Success Story

Submitted By: Mitch Rosin, Barstow Area Consortium for Adult Education

College provides highly accelerated noncredit pathway to military promotion

The Challenge

Barstow Community College (BCC) has served the educational needs of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California since 1981. BCC is a member of the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) and has been designated Military Friendly by G.I. Jobs and Top MAE College or University by Military Advanced Education for 2016. Currently, BCC serves more than 900 service members and their families at the Fort Irwin campus, offering residential and online classes. 

Some service member students, much like a sizeable percentage of civilian students who enter community college, assess in math and English at levels that indicate a lack of readiness to succeed at college-level work. The need for accelerating students’ progress through foundational skills development has been identified as a strategic priority for community colleges nationwide.

The Solution

At Fort Irwin, Barstow Community College provides a highly accelerated, noncredit pathway to promotional opportunities specific to the military. The Basic Skills Educational Program (BSEP) focuses on the development of students’ mathematical reasoning abilities, reading comprehension and vocabulary. The skill development that occurs results in large gains in student assessment scores in these areas.
The BSEP is an intensive, three-week class that begins with assessing students’ foundational skills, including the use of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). The ASVAB assesses four critical areas: arithmetic reasoning, word knowledge, paragraph comprehension and mathematics knowledge. Scores in each of these count toward the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score. The AFQT score initially determines whether a service member is qualified to enlist in the U.S. military. Scores in other areas of the ASVAB determine how qualified recruits are for certain military occupational specialties and enlistment bonuses. 
The BSEP instructor, Allen Norton, well understands the incentive that improved scores on the ASVAB presents to these service members, and he reminds his students of this immediate goal to keep them motivated through the five hours of instruction that is provided five days per week for the entire three-week period of the course. The instructor also pushes students to think beyond just getting the score that pushes them past the cut score that opens opportunities; he requires them to articulate their longer-term career goals and to do so in the company of their peers. In addition to the intensive classroom instruction, students are given multiple hours of homework each day. The objective is to make certain students solidify their understanding of the operations they employ to solve mathematical problems, that they read for deep comprehension, and that they confidently use their expanding vocabulary in appropriate contexts. 


The BCC program has seen remarkable success. Students who complete the class describe it as one of the hardest things they have ever done, which is surprising to hear from servicemen and servicewomen who have endured the rigors of military life. But because the class is so difficult, the feeling of accomplishment is magnified and students’ self-perception is transformed. Past lack of success in high school classes is no longer understood as the student’s fixed inability to learn. Success in the BSEP class and the doors that open with improved test scores build students’ confidence in their ability to learn and to advance in their chosen specialty or career.

The course has become so popular among service members that many travel from other bases during their leave periods just to take the class. In 2015, Norton, the instructor, received the Commander’s Award for Public Service for his dedication to his students and for the successes of his course. This award is the fourth-highest public service honorary award that may be granted to a private citizen in recognition of service or achievements that contribute significantly to the accomplishment of the mission of an Army activity, command, or staff agency.

The Data

Eighty percent of all students in the classes, which have been offered and delivered in this manner since 2013, have increased their basic skills scores by 10 points or more and most reach or go beyond the threshold required to seek promotional opportunities. Similar basic skills courses are offered at other military installations in other states and other parts of California, but none have yielded the magnitude of success that the Barstow Community College course has produced. 

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