Adult ed serves essential role in community learning

Photo by Evyjo Compton | The E-building, on Parkland’s campus south of the main college building, is the central location of the Adult Education program.

Photo by Evyjo Compton | The E-building, on Parkland’s campus south of the main college building, is the central location of the Adult Education program.

EvyJo Compton


The Adult Education program at Parkland plays a vital role for learners wishing to better themselves in an academic setting, learning English, or towards starting a career.

From achieving a GED to helping a learner along with a bridge program to a career, Adult Education is here to help.

Tawanna Nickens, the assistant dean of Adult Education at Parkland has been involved with the program since the early 1990s.

“I started off as one of the frontline professors fresh out of college. From there, I took on various roles in Adult Education; I dabbled in advising, answering phones at night, and other things, but I loved it, and still do. I have loved every minute of it,” said Nickens.

There are two things that do not allow for students to be a part of the program; not having a diploma and being under 16. There are also tests that the students must take when they enter the program so they can be assessed on their skill levels.

“If [students] do not speak or read English, we do have an oral test that they can take. We assess every learner for their reading and math skills. We have a 0 to 12.9 scale for our learners. You can think of that as grade levels,” Nickens said.

Adult Education at Parkland serves the entire district of Parkland College, and offers a variety of free services.

“We offer free classes, free advising, free support, instructional supplies…we can help with transportation costs, but with how the grant is, we cannot buy gas cards or help supply money for gas, we can only offer to buy bus tokens, which we have done,” Nickens said.

Parkland’s Adult Education is grant-funded. This money goes to provide free services for those whom are eligible.

“One of the biggest things about Adult Education is that we are a grant funded program; we receive federal and state dollars to provide services free to the adults in the program,” Nickens said. “Most of our adult students are students who have not completed high school; whether the high school equivalency or certain set of skills is necessary to move on in the workforce, we help the students achieve their goals.”

English-as-a-second-language courses takes up a large portion of the population that Adult Education serves.

“Here at the Adult Education at Parkland, we have a large amount of English as a Second Language learners,” Nickens said. “There are several different paths for ESL…students to take. We provide these students with free classes.”

The classes are conversation-based, so that students can take what they have learned and use it in everyday situations.

“It differs what they offer in the Humanities department as we only focus on learning English, so that the students can function in a work environment. Because of the grants, we are restricted on what population we can serve for ESL; we can serve basically everyone who will be permanent in the community, but we cannot serve anyone who has a student visa as their stay here is temporary, and our goal is to help those in, or going in, the workforce,” Nickens said.

The effect of the English-as-a-second-language courses is much more than just the schoolwork.

“We take the ability to understand the English jargon for granted,” Nickens said. “For example, some students and a teacher visited a career opportunity, and the supervisor said head’s up, which to us means pay attention, but to the learners, they had no idea what was going on. The professor intervened, and explained to the class what the supervisor meant. Our professors are always looking for teachable moments as these leaners are out there working in environments where they may not know what is being said around them. Workplace safety is very crucial.”

Another part of Adult Education is helping adults find careers or get started going towards a career, so that they can earn a family sustaining wage in the community.

“Learners being able to go into a career, or at least, identify in a career, is one of the things we take pride in offering services for,” Nickens said. “One of the programs we have, if you are a part of the Adult Education Program and have a reading score of at least a 6th grade level, we can co-enroll you in the industrial welding program. Students can be a part of this accelerated strategy, as it is an accelerated time from the time a student starts Adult Education, and then finish with college-level credentials.”

Another program that Parkland’s Adult Education offers is the Early School Leaver Transitional Program, which helps students in their late teens and early twenties.

“We have the Early School Leaver Transitional Program,” Nickens said. “It is aimed at individuals who drop out of high school, because those students may not have the academic credentials to get a job that they need to support themselves. The most at risk are those between the ages of 16 and 21.”

The main goal of the ESLTP is to help leavers get the skills necessary for going forth in a career by building skills and placing them in a work environment in their desired career.

“The program helps to reengage the Early School Leaver in an academically focused career path,” Nickens said. “We supplement their high school equivalency with career awareness skills with the emphasis on soft skill such as getting to work on time and having a positive attitude. This program also places the students at a work site based on their career interest.”

Parkland’s Adult Education has several basic skills building courses, but they also have bridge or pathway courses to certain industries in the student’s interest.

“Along with our stand alone basic skills building courses, we also have bridge courses within three industries; healthcare, manufacturing, and transportation,” Nickens said. “These courses are meant to help adults build their skills towards a career of their interest. It helps them build skills, get ready for post-secondary, helps them get ready for the Accuplacer test at Parkland if they must take the route, and it’s all for free.”

Not only will the students gain necessary skills towards a career, they will also dive into their desired career.

“Students will research online, they will talk to employment opportunities, and may even shadow those in their desired career,” Nickens said. “Being able to talk to those in their intended career is very powerful, as those already in the career, bring their passion to the learners and give them invaluable knowledge that they might need going towards that career.”

Students wishing to achieve their GED or high school equivalency will take classes at the Adult Education at Parkland, but will actually take their test in the assessment center on campus.

“Even though Adult Education at Parkland has become career centered, we do have classes for GED or high school equivalency completion,” Nickens said. “Now, the classes to complete the GED are here at Adult Education, but the actual test is through Parkland’s assessment center. Learners will have to sign up on line, and fill in when they wish to take it. We do not have any say or role in the actual test in the assessment center.”

There are two Adult Education programs in the Champaign-Urbana area. Parkland’s program covers the entire Parkland district while the Urbana Adult Education program is central to Urbana-Champaign area.

“We work closely with Urbana, because we overlap. We must be able to work together on things, so that we can reduce any duplication so the money from the grants is being used wisely and efficiently. They are our partners,” Nickens said.

“Students have always been very appreciative of having a second chance,” Nickens said. “We are a grant based program, so it can be a lot of pressure in our environment, but the greatest reward is when those students’ sheer gratitude reminds you of why you’re here.”

For more information on the Adult Education program at Parkland, visit, call 217-351-2580, or visit the E-building on campus.