Central Piedmont Community College
Pathways to Employment & ESL Pathways
Charlotte, North Carolina

Organizational Background
Central Piedmont Community College’s (CPCC) Community Development Department initiated Pathways to Employment (Pathways) in 1998. CPCC used innovation and flexibility to design economically valued credit-based vocational training in targeted industries, to better serve adults facing work-first welfare reform. Pathways students, who are recipients of public benefits, learn new technical and employability skills through integrated basic education and for-credit technical college curricula. Primarily through ESL Pathways, CPCC is also beginning to address the needs of other under-skilled adults who do not have self-sufficiency incomes, but do not qualify for public benefits.

Strategy and Services
Pathways students are mainly recipients of public benefits (including TANF, housing, child care credits, etc.) and immigrants. In this profile, the programs will be referred to as Basic Pathways and ESL Pathways, respectively. Based on industry research and input from Charlotte business representatives, Pathways provides training in seven high-growth job fields. This profile highlights the two industries with the highest number of students: Health and Applied Electrical. Basic Pathways participants predominantly train as medical office administrators and medical reimbursement specialists, and ESL Pathways participants train as CNAs and Applied Electrical [job title?].

Basic Pathways provides 450 hours of instruction over an average of 15 weeks, 32 hours per week. Participants finish with 9 to 12 credits towards an 18-credit continuing education occupational certificate. ESL Pathways students typically take courses part-time up to 24 weeks, to accommodate working students’ schedules. CNA students take 192 hours of instruction required by North Carolina law to take the licensure exam. Applied Electrical encompasses three content courses, and adjunct contextual ESL instruction.

CPCC’s Community Development Department houses Pathways, and partners with short-term Training, Continuing Education and curriculum departments for electrical, medical billing, welding, HVAC and other technical material. Pathways utilizes variations of contextualized, integrated basic skills and technical (“IBEST”) instruction. For example, the basic skills instructor learns the technical material and integrates it into adjunct class time, often contextualizing the basic skills curricula to reiterate the technical material, while building or reinforcing basic or academic skills such as English as a Second Language, reading, math, financial literacy, communication and other employability/life skills.

Integrated basic and technical material is appropriate for both the Basic Pathways students, who benefit from reinforcement of the material if they are less prepared for college-level pace or rigor, and for ESL Pathways students, who benefit from reiteration of technical and workplace English.

CPCC strives to make Pathways accessible, regardless of education experience. For example, students who do not identify as degree-seeking are not required to take the college placement test. Pathways students who later choose to pursue an Associate’s degree may then be exempt from the college placement test, having demonstrating their aptitude by successfully completing the Pathways coursework. Students who do not have a diploma or GED may enroll in Pathways, if they are assessed to be within 6 months of a GED or qualifying admissions score. Basic Pathways students in the medical billing and administration must test at least a 9th grade reading level on TABE. Students testing below this level are offered ABE courses at Central Piedmont’s learning lab. ESL Pathways students are screened and low-performers are placed in a pre-CNA or pre-electrical contextual ESL course.

Critical Partners
CPCC works in partnership with public and private organizations to recruit, manage and retain Pathways students. A full-time Pathways Coordinator liaises with faculty, frequently meets with students and monitors their progress, connects students to educational supports, and directly accesses their Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS) social worker, who arranges services to alleviate childcare, transportation or other situations identified as possible barriers to student success. Student success is further supported by CPCC faculty, who meet with the DSS social worker, counselors and job developers, and know about student needs and the supports that can be offered.

For ESL Pathways, CPCC partners with the Latin American Coalition (LAC) for outreach, program orientations in Spanish, and student screening, as well as supports for these working students’ needs. For CPCC, this partnership with LAC significantly increases awareness among Charlotte’s Spanish-speaking population that the college has accessible vocational offerings. This partnership also enhances CPCC’s service to Charlotte businesses looking to diversify into the Spanish-speaking labor pool.

CPCC leverages other community partnerships and resources to fortify services to Pathways participants and make student scholarships available, including: the United Way of Central Carolinas, Charlotte Enterprise Community, Christ Episcopal Church, Johnston YMCA, the Employment Security Commission, The Williamson’s, Charlotte Women’s Shelter, the Links Junior League Collaborative, Goodwill Industries, Freddie Mac, and the City of Charlotte Neighborhood Development, among others.

Relationship with Business
In designing Pathways, CPCC and DSS researched local industry and employment needs, and talked with businesses. This focused researched made sure that they were designing programs that represent the first rung of a career ladder that was above minimum wage, and is in an employment field with continued growth potential.CPCC boasts the reputation as the place to go for short-term occupational training in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area, and Pathways occupational training is in direct response to businesses’ hiring needs, or plans to upgrade and promote employees. For example, ESL Pathways Applied Electrical was launched at the request of a Charlotte utility company to upgrade its employees, and the company provided scholarships for tuition, books and tools. ESL Pathways CNA is supported by the Alzheimer’s Association, representing member long-term healthcare providers’ critical employment needs.

For its other Pathways, CPCC has working relationships with local employers and placement agencies to help students obtain employment upon graduation, including: Carolinas HealthCare System, NOVANT/Presbyterian Hospital, Metrolina Comprehensive Healthcare, MedClaim, Sprint PCS, Superior Mechanical, LT Mechanical, Ross & Whitmer, BB&T Bank, Kelly Services, Pro Staff, and Peoplelink staffing. Participating businesses provide opportunities for field trips, clinical experiences, job shadowing, and guest speakers.

At Pathways inception in the tight labor market eight years ago, participating businesses gave preferential hiring consideration. In the current softer labor market, partner businesses maintain a strong connection with CPCC for employment opportunities, participating in job fairs for the graduating classes, and making time to consider program participants for employment. These in-person contacts provide an advantage over other applicants in the increasingly computerized and on-line employment applications process.

Pathways results are tracked by Pathways staff and DSS. CPCC reports impressive results for Pathways:


Pathways student retention is 80%. As one example, 100 Basic Pathways students typically enroll each semester for Medical Reimbursement and Medical Office Administrative Procedures, and 80 complete.


ESL Pathways CNA graduated three cohorts totaling 42 students (15, 13 and 14) in its first three semesters; in Winter 2005 the cohort was capped at 20 students with a waiting list.

Educational advancement

50% of students enrolling without a GED earned it during the course of their program. Within 12 months of Pathways graduation, more than 25% of participants continue studies at CPCC.

Employment and earnings

On average across all 7 Pathways programs, 72% of graduates find work in their chosen profession within 6 months of graduation. As of one report, 81% of 343 participants were employed after six months; and 77% after one year. 75% of graduates no longer receive TANF benefits, and the average wage is $10.50 an hour.

Meeting business needs

Pathways participants represent 60-70% of the administrative staff of participating allied health businesses, the majority of which are small medical offices.

Pathways success is not intended to be a one-time event for CPCC. The Pathways approach to serving disadvantaged students is becoming a more frequent way of operating at CPCC. There are several indicators of structural or ‘systems change’.

Program growth: CPCC Pathways began in the fall of 1998 with 1 course and grew over 5 years to 8 programs. As of Spring 2006, there were over 1,000 Pathways graduates. The Pathways approach has filtered over into cooperation with at least four academic curriculum departments. The horticultural department is connecting with ESL Pathways to meet training needs for Charlotte-area businesses, and the financial education department is working with Continuing Education on a mortgage finance skills program.

Addressing new challenges: CPCC is tackling the next ‘rung’ of a career ladder approach—supporting working students to further their education, in order to continue progressing economically. Basic Pathways participants graduate with 9 to 12 credits, short of a full occupational certificate. If a Pathways participant is able to continue studying full-time once Pathways support ends, they may be eligible for need-based student aid, and can apply for CPCC’s college-funded “JumpStart” program.

However, the majority of Pathways graduates have need employment to support their families, and must work rather than finish the occupational certificate or study to pass certifying exams. Once working, students struggle to finance their tuition on entry-level incomes, and may not be able to get tuition assistance when they can only study part-time. For example, a medical reimbursement specialist must pass an advanced coding exam for certification. The course is only $75, but the books can be $300-600 and it costs $300 for the exam. Entry-level working students may not have income available for these costs.

Policies and practices: At CPCC, policies and working cultures that used to stand in the way of innovation or serving new populations are being worked through. Generally, “policies were not put in place to be a barrier, they just became a barrier” over time, and were not modified as times and students changed. Increasingly, there is spontaneous innovation to collaborate in new ways.

A training partnership between CPCC and the City of Charlotte highlights another aspect of policies that may be outdated or unintentionally restrictive. The City wants to “grow their own supervisors” and make career ladders for entry-level staff. CPCC provides basic skills and for-credit management, communication, procurement, and computer training to utility, street maintenance and solid waste employees. This training partnership is supported by NCCCS under the basic skills Pathways grant, YMCA hosts the space, the CPCC Foundation contributes, and the City will reimburse the students’ tuition. But, CPCC learned during planning meetings with the City’s managers that according to employee regulations, employees can only get tuition reimbursement if they have a high school diploma (or higher). This makes a large number of the entry-level employees ineligible for tuition reimbursement. CPCC is working with the Mayor to change the tuition reimbursement policy, and does not expect it to be “controversial” or face a lot of resistance.

Pathways partner organizations—public, non-profit and private business—share the costs of running the program with cash and in-kind contributions. As a primary source of support, CPCC has received almost a half-million dollars ($475,196) since 1998 in Pathways to Employment grants from the North Carolina Community College System, for program operations and student support. Other financing includes:

Student scholarships

Between 2000 and 2004, Pathways received more than $170,000 in grants from United Way of the Central Carolinas, and in 2003 received a five year $125,000 grant from Christ Episcopal Church in Charlotte, to fund student scholarships. The CPCC Foundation and President’s Fund also raise funds for “Jumpstart” scholarships to complete technical certifications

Program and curriculum support

CPCC employs a full-time Pathways coordinator, an Academic Specialist and a full-time Social Worker is provided through a partnership with DSS. In 2002, Pathways received $15,000 from Freddie Mac for tuition and books to provide credit education using the CreditSmart consumer credit education curriculum. ESL Pathways is funded in large part by Adult Education and ESL, e.g., staff and space, and Adult ESL/Civics. Development of Applied Electrical was accomplished through financing from a Charlotte utility company. Ongoing development of the CNA program is being funded by a UNC Charlotte research grant for contextual course models.

Materials and space

In December 1999, Mecklenburg County DSS provided $41,670 to fund a 20-station computer lab at the Central campus for the Pathways program.

In-kind support

CPCC is estimated to have contributed approximately $260,000 towards Pathways over a five-year period

Pathways has also been a benefit to CPCC financially by generating an additional $4.6 million dollars in state enrollment funds over six years. That is, by hosting Pathways, CPCC has not only provided economically valuable qualifications to a population traditionally underserved by colleges, it has also tapped into a new population of students, who attract revenue to the college.