Evaluating the Provision of Adult Education on Nantucket


Sponsor: Nantucket Community School
Sponsor Liaison: Brian Lenane and Lindsay Pykosz
Student Team: Tim Loosigian, Caroline Major, Hannah Peloquin, and Akhilesh Yarlagadda
Abstract: The Nantucket Community School (NCS) is an organization with the goal to “engage strengthen and connect the community [of Nantucket]”. The NCS continually strives to improve its adult education program to better serve the community, via new courses or delivery methods. The goal of our project was to find course offerings that encompass both the desires and professional needs of NCS students, but also employers, businesses, and the community at large. Based on our background research and the findings from our surveys and interviews, we recommend that the NCS add courses in finance and QuickBooks, technology and computer skills, and professional-level foreign language, as well as continue to offer classes in CPR and First Aid, ESOL, GED, and Real Estate.

NCS Adult Education – Final Report

NCS Adult Education – Final Presentation

Executive Summary

The Nantucket Community School (NCS) is an organization that offers a multitude of programs, including early childhood programs, youth programs, and adult education. The Nantucket Community School recognizes that the needs of employers, employees, and the larger community have changed dramatically in recent years and that this change has been hastened and partially shaped by the COVID pandemic. Information technologies keep advancing, offering both new challenges and new opportunities as demonstrated by the moves toward remote learning and working. Faced with these changes, the Nantucket Community School is exploring how it must adapt. As the Nantucket Community School’s adult education coordinators, Brian Lenane and Lindsay Pykosz have detailed, Nantucket and similar communities endeavor to retain year-round residents to provide stability and bolster their economies.

The goal of our project was to recommend how NCS can enhance its adult education program to better meet the needs of the community, whether doing so involves a shift in delivery methods or new course offerings. The project had four objectives:

  1. Identify recent trends in the provision of adult education in the US;
  2. Assess lessons learned from the provision of adult education in communities similar to Nantucket;
  3. Evaluate the adult education courses offered by NCS currently and in the past; and,
  4. Determine collaborator preferences regarding the future provision of adult education on Nantucket.

To accomplish these objectives, we conducted background research regarding the trends in adult education and spoke with representatives from educational institutions in communities similar to Nantucket, such as Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. We surveyed approximately 130 current, former, and prospective NCS students to gauge interest in course offerings and delivery modes. We conducted interviews with educational professionals, local business owners, NCS staff and instructors, and current and past students to glean additional perspectives.


Based on our background research and findings, we have developed the following conclusions and recommendations for our sponsors at the Nantucket Community School:


Conclusion #1: The most popular subjects desired by past NCS students include finance and QuickBooks, technology and computer skills, and foreign languages.

Through our survey responses, we were able to gauge past and prospective students’ interest in certain subject areas that are not currently offered by NCS. For past students, this included finance and QuickBooks, technology and computer skills, and foreign language. These three courses were also the same courses desired by prospective students, with the switch between foreign language being the most sought and finance and QuickBooks being the third.


Recommendation 1.1: We recommend that the Nantucket Community School add courses in finance and QuickBooks.


The category of Finance/QuickBooks includes a wide spectrum of skills that could cover anything from personal finance to corporate accounting. We were unable to take this broad idea and narrow it to an appropriate singular curriculum. We therefore recommend that the NCS solicit more input from potential students for such a course. In particular, NCS would benefit from information regarding the following aspects of such a course offering or offerings:


  • What is the primary goal of potential students, such as personal finance, starting a business, or advancing in their present positions by understanding more about finance?
  • What is potential students’ current understanding of basic financial tools, such as balance sheets, profit and loss statements, and cash flow projections?
  • What experience do potential students currently have about the software used for financial analysis and management, such as Excel and QuickBooks?
  • If a prospective student is interested in QuickBooks, are they interested in a specific part of the package (e.g. cashflow analysis, payroll, strategy)?
  • Do prospective QuickBooks students hope to achieve one of the certification levels in QuickBooks (see: https://quickbooks.intuit.com/accountants/training-certification/certification/)?
  • What length of course would the students envision?


Once NCS gets more information about the demand profile of prospective students, they will be able to begin developing an appropriate curriculum and recruiting a suitable instructor, either on- or off-island, to teach the course. Recruitment of appropriate instructors remains a challenge for NCS, particularly for courses that require very specific levels of expertise. When offering courses, the NCS will have to balance the desires of prospective students with the feasibility of finding an instructor.


Recommendation 1.2: We recommend NCS develop and offer foreign language classes at the professional as well as medical levels.

Professional foreign language classes would be designed for English-speaking individuals who would like to learn another language. Spanish would be the obvious first choice as it is the largest non-English language spoken on the island, but there was also interest in Portuguese and Chinese. These professional language courses would include business terms and other professional vocabulary to provide improved opportunities to communicate with non-native English speakers on the island. Businesses might also be willing to pay for professional language courses for their employees since it would promote better relations with the Spanish-speaking community on the island and expand business opportunities. Several employers interviewed were willing to pay for classes such as electrician courses, CPR, and ESOL, if it would benefit their businesses. Professional Spanish would be a great investment for hospitals specifically as it would make communication between employees and patients more efficient. The hospital itself could also provide funding for these courses and use them as part of its professional development requirements for employees. However, NCS would need to conduct further research into the exact needs of the community to develop curricula for such a broad subject area as a foreign language, such as which discourse community languages are most desired.


Recommendation 1.3: We recommend NCS offer technology and computer skills classes

Technology and computer skills are encompassed across many different topics, similar to finance courses. Our surveys and interviews indicate that there is substantial interest in classes on technology and computer skills. This may reflect that many immigrants and older citizens in particular lack familiarity and experience with new technologies and computers, but we were unable to narrow down the idea into particular topics. To provide these classes, NCS may need to gather some more information from prospective students, such as:

  • What are the reasons for wanting technology courses, such as basic user training for devices, or computer skills for business management?
  • Is there specific software or certain skills that potential students would like to learn?
  • What experience would potential students have before starting such a course?
  • Would prospective students hope to earn certification(s) for certain skills, such as Microsoft Office?



Conclusion #2: Adult education has become more centered around courses that offer credentials since that is something desired by both employers and students.

Based on our review of relevant literature, we determined that many adult education programs shifted to vocational and trade-based programs that offer certifications. Both employers and students desire certifications as a way for them to advance either their businesses or individual careers. It was also evident through our survey responses that one of the main motivations for both past and prospective students to take courses at NCS would be the acquisition of a certification degree. Several businesses seem willing to pay for these certificates making them even more desirable for students.


Recommendation 2.1: We recommend that the Nantucket Community School design its courses so that applicable courses, especially those which are relevant to a trade or vocation, allow students to obtain a certification degree.

Based upon survey responses and interviews, one of the main reasons that prospective students would be more likely to take courses is if they can gain a certification degree after the course. Furthermore, at least half of the employers we interviewed stated that they would be willing to subsidize the costs of certification courses as well as give their employees time off to take these classes. This has the potential to attract more students to NCS and lead to higher enrollment numbers.


Conclusion #3: Based on our review of current and past enrollment data from NCS, we found that the most popular courses in past years were CPR and First Aid and ESOL, followed by Real Estate and GED courses.

CPR and First Aid and ESOL courses were the most popular courses in past years and these courses continue to have the highest enrollment numbers. While Covid-19 lowered the enrollment numbers for 2021, they have bounced back subsequently and many classes for 2022-23 now are fully enrolled. In addition to the CPR and First Aid and the ESOL courses, Real Estate and GED have also been found to be extremely popular at NCS. While the Real Estate courses typically have smaller enrollment numbers, according to the coordinators, this course has still been classified as being full over the past three years. It can be concluded that Real Estate is a course that consistently meets enrollment capacity, meaning it is reliable and should continue to be offered. A similar trend was found with the GED courses, and the enrollment data indicates that while GED courses have smaller class sizes, the numbers continue to be consistent year after year, demonstrating the importance of this course.


Recommendation 3.1: We recommend that the Nantucket Community School should continue offering the CPR and First Aid courses, as well as the ESOL, Real Estate, and GED courses.

These CPR and First Aid, ESOL, Real Estate, and GED were the most reliable courses and reached nearly full enrollment over the past three years, and the survey responses confirm that these courses were the most useful and important courses the past students have taken at NCS. Because these courses have consistently reached the maximum capacity of students, it would be probable that this trend would continue in the future. Additionally, NCS already has instructors for these courses, so they do not need to recruit new employees for these positions. Now that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are lessening, the enrollment numbers are likely to increase even more.


Recommendation 3.2: Because the very popular ESOL course has courses at multiple levels that allow students to enroll in a class with peers of similar abilities and skill levels, we recommend that NCS consider breaking other courses into different levels if applicable.

Breaking the courses down into different levels will allow for more specialized education. After speaking with students in the ESOL course, we found that students will also be more likely to take courses if they feel like their needs will be supported and that they have similar skill levels as their peers. The level structure has seemed to work out extremely well for the ESOL classes, so we suggest trying it out with other subjects. For example, a computer skills class could have a lower level for introductory computer skills and a higher level for more advanced learners. This also may help students not feel as overwhelmed, as everyone may start with differing levels of experience. Various leveling of classes could also be done by offering single-day workshops aimed at different skill levels for applicable courses and evaluating which have the biggest draw.



Conclusion #4: Several of our interviewees were not aware of the range of the courses offered by NCS and the opportunities that the community school can provide.


Recommendation 4.1:  We recommend that the NCS continue to improve and build upon its marketing methods so that the community is more aware of the opportunities provided by the school.

To combat this the NCS should focus on advertising the course offerings to reach the entire island. This can be done by bringing back the paper brochures to distribute in public places as not everyone on the island uses computers or cell phones daily. These brochures could also be printed in Spanish and Portuguese to help advertise to other popular ethnic groups on the island. Furthermore, to provide an incentive, NCS could provide their students with a discount on their next class if they bring a friend, which would increase enrollment and reward the current students. By explaining how the community school can help members of the community, enrollment in the NCS course offerings would be expected to increase.

The NCS should focus not just on marketing to prospective students directly but also on businesses. If a business needs a certain certificate to be offered, it can go through the NCS instead of having to go off the island. This would allow a direct link between businesses and the school and would make it much clearer what classes are important.

There are many challenges associated with marketing, especially because it is difficult to reach some of the communities that NCS would like to. For example, Adult Education coordinators Brian and Lindsay highlighted that reaching people who work in the trades is notoriously difficult, whether this is reaching out to potential students, or even instructors for classes.

Word of mouth is a big factor in how the community school grows, and attending more events with hard-to-reach communities can start a chain reaction which can result in more interest in the NCS and their programs. Reaching out to organizations such as the Nantucket Builders’ Association or religious groups is a potential option, as well as attending public events such as athletics events. Mary Burke from Upper Cape Tech mentioned their organization also uses word of mouth, although recently they received a grant to use for marketing. They have hired personnel specifically to assist with marketing. If the NCS has the resources to devote to this, we recommend they do the same.



Conclusion #5: NCS must continually analyze and update its course offering to best fit the needs of the community, causing them to change year after year.


Recommendation 5.1: We recommend the NCS have a course evaluation system that allows for anonymous feedback from students to facilitate continuous improvement of the course offerings.


While the rest of our analysis and recommendations may be what the island needs now, things are constantly changing. We recommend a feedback system to continuously improve these courses. This could be done by administering anonymous paper surveys at the end of classes as well as digital options. These surveys are for students to rate their course experience after it concludes, this data can subsequently be used for current and prospective students to see how their peers felt about their experiences. These surveys would be put into a system that is only available to the NCS staff. This data would allow the NCS to constantly monitor what the students want and need.