The Academy for College Excellence sponsored by Community Initiatives sees community colleges as engines of progress and prosperity in communities. To help community colleges adapt and live up to this role, we offer ideas and tools to transform the education experience for community college students, instructors, staff and administrators.  We help community colleges better serve the struggling-but-strong students now coming in search of a pathway toward upward mobility.

This video funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and developed by Kentucky Educational Television describes the ACE program and how it helps at-risk students many who have dropped out of school.

It's no secret that American schools are in crisis. Fewer and fewer of our students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers. Many communities have high numbers of Opportunity Youth — young adults ages 16-24 who are neither in school nor working. Some 40 millions adults do not have a high school diploma or GED certificate nor prospects for a profession that provides family-supporting wages. For those that started a two- or four-year college in the Fall 2012 term for the first time only 58% return ed to the same school a year later.

This is particularly true in low-income communities, where families and schools alike are struggling for resources and wrestling with issues that interfere with learning.  For too many students, worries about money, violence in the neighborhood, and fragmented families can render school irrelevant.

But these life experiences offer our students an altogether different set of learning opportunities.  Life has put obstacles in their path, but difficult life experiences have afforded them opportunities to learn critical survival skills.  These students are smart; determination and hard work are a key component of their life experience, just not their academic experience. 

While many are successfully navigating poverty, fractured family environments, rough neighborhoods, and underperforming public schools, they struggle with a range of academic and personal vulnerabilities — from a lack of proficiency in math and English to family stresses. They often have a strong desire to succeed and extraordinary survival skills.  What they are lacking is academic confidence, and understanding of how to bring their interpersonal skills and strengths to bear in academic and professional settings.

There is a growing population of underrepresented college students who desperately want a college education and have the courage to seek it out, but don’t know how to apply their unique strengths and skills to college.  With the right support, they can withstand the isolating environments of our commuter community colleges and/or on-line programs. When introduced to high-intensity, hands-on learning that focuses on accentuating their inherent strengths, these students can thrive.

Colleges didn't create this problem of underprepared students, but they have the responsibility to address it.  And yet  — just like the students they serve — few higher education institutions are prepared for the challenge.  They need a creative, cost effective way to help students succeed, especially as we recognize that the problem goes far beyond academic preparedness, but also includes the devastating impacts of poverty, broken families, and the struggle of many different cultural groups to adapt to and succeed in our communities.

The ACE model is an evidence-based proven solution that provides a transformative experience and impact for students, faculty, colleges and the community.


ACE sets students up for success in college by helping them translate life skills into their academic experience.  ACE helps students see themselves as "college material" and gives them the confidence, skills and supports to succeed.  Through direct experience, ACE is teaching the behaviors of showing up, hard work, fulfilling commitment, effective listening, having reasoned discussions, and effectively communicate to work in teams with others unlike themselves.  These are the same skills that drive effective entrepreneurship and civic engagement.

Academic Impact

7.8 x in 1

ACE students are 7.8 times more likely to pass transfer-level math & English courses in the following semester than their peers.

ACE students are 4 times more likely to pass transfer level math & English courses two semesters after attending the ACE program than their peers.

4 x in 2

ACE students earn more than twice as many college-level credits on average and they are more likely to enroll full time in the semester following their ACE experience than their peers.  


ACE students who completed the ACE Foundations of Leadership Course and Bridge Semester exhibited significant gains in academic self-efficacy, personal responsibility, college identity, mindfulness, and leadership and teamwork efficacy.

Ultimately participation in an ACE provides students hope and proves to them that it can be done.  The intrinsic change ACE creates shared hopes in students which anchors them to one another, to their colleges and their communities.

The most important thing i learned was this course gave me the strength to pick back up what I am passionate about and just be myself
— S.C., Cabrillo College student


At ACE, we take our inspiration from William Butler Yeats, who said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Just as our courses light a new fire for learning in vulnerable students; they light a fire for a new way of teaching among community college faculty to reach those students.

We help faculty change the way they understand, connect with and teach the most vulnerable students. They reconnect with the thrill of teaching as they connect with vulnerable students to spark their thrill in learning.  For many its reconnecting with the why they give so much of their lives to teaching. For some it validates the way they have taught for years, but with longitudinal evidence and complete curriculum kits that include supporting professional development and peer support.

The FELI has rehumanized my teaching philosophy.
— E.C., Contra Costa College


Community colleges are rooted in their communities, and must adapt to local needs. Demographic shifts in communities are resulting in more first-generation students with different needs that the students that the colleges were originally designed to serve. Colleges are called to new approaches that better serve these underprepared students coming through their doors.  Where student equity gaps exist between the college populations and their communities ACE has been effective in helping colleges to improve access and success.

By demonstrating success with our most challenging students, ACE is sustaining community colleges in their role as engines of progress and prosperity in our communities.

I believe that this program is on the cutting edge of a new wave in education and will transform millions of lives.
— D.N., Broward College


Community colleges play a critical role in lifting people out of poverty.  They are local, open and accessible, and the most affordable option in higher education. Further, community colleges are adept at creating curriculum that trains students for skilled jobs with local employers in the community.  But they don't work in isolation, or at least they shouldn't.  Many community based organizations work daily to set people on a pathway to family-supporitng jobs and that means not only getting them to their first day at community college — it means equipping them with the skills to arrive, survive until they thrive.  ACE graduates become the leaders in their communities.

Community by community, ACE fills a critical gap in services by empowering people striving for a better life to be successful citizens with college degrees and a deep understanding of the skills needed to succeed in the 21st Century workplace.

I feel that it was a good component of my professional life that was missing and unconsciously I’m glad my boss enrolled me because some of the concepts I was thinking about but was able to put them together by coming to FELI
— H.O., Health Care Clinic
ACE Theory of Change.jpg

Our approach to comprehensive student support is fundamentally different from other programs because it comes not through the provision of specific services to students but rather through:

  1. coherent educational activities in which students engage,
  2. the Behavior System that reinforces norms for success,
  3. the deep sense of community formed between cohort participants, and
  4. the integration with rigorous academic coursework.

Our model recognizes that all students can benefit from experiencing a stronger foundation for success so we have adapted its methodology to serve a range of learners found at community colleges.  Colleges can choose the ACE program variations that best fit their unique completion goals and specific target populations.

While key components of each program variation can vary by its target population, all approaches have the same common interests:

  1. helping students learn 21st century skills,
  2. developing their affective domain,
  3. drawing on learners' experiences and interests as a catalyst for learning, and
  4. building community among participants.

Program Variations


Affective Timeslicing


All Students


Exercises from FELI Graduate Guidebook incorporated into current courses



Affective Orientation

College Prepared Students

Orient to professional skills, behavior, mindsets and college culture: Nursing, General Ed. Req.

Foundations of Leadership Course (FC) | Students attend regular college courses and programs.

Affective Summer Bridge

Transitioning Students

Provide rich academic and community-building experience, leveraging student's exposure to social injustice.

FC + Team Self-Management (TSM) + Social Justice Research Course (SJRC) 

Affective Support CTE

Career and Technical Education Students

Medical Assisting, Green Jobs, Sustainable Construction, Respiratory Care, etc.

FC + TSM + CTE courses

Affective Booster LC

Learning Communities

Provide 24/7 peer-support in a hyper-bonded community.

FC + TSM + Linked courses

Accelerated Academic Learning

Developmental Education / STEM Students

Accelerated English and math, and Integrated Science using a project-based course around which to integrate curriculum.

FC + TSM + Project-based course to integration curriculum

Take the Next Step

Join over a thousand colleagues who have taken the next step by experiencing the ACE curriculum and bringing affective learning to their institutions.  If you are interested in our program contact us about hosting a Five-day Experiential Learning Institute (FELI) on your campus or register yourself or a small exploratory team from your college at any of the FELIs that are open to colleagues outside the host college.  


Ann Endris

ACE FELI Master Mentor II, Cabrillo College Social Justice Instructor. Member since 2009.

  • Masters, International Migration


Chris Lebo-Planas

ACE FELI Master Mentor III, Berkeley City College ACE Program Coordinator & English Instructor. Member since 2008.



Diego Navarro

ACE Founder & Principal Investigator, FELI Master Mentor III, Cabrillo College ACE Instructor. Member since 2002.

  • B.A., Antioch College

  • Masters Degree, Harvard University


Gail West

ACE FELI Master Mentor II, Cabrillo College Human Services Instructor. Member since 2009.

  • Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology

  • Licensed Marriage & Family Counselor


Joy Vaughn-Brown

ACE FELI Master Mentor II, Broward College Instructor of Student Life Success. Member since 2011.

  • B.S., Columbia University

  • M.A., Special Education/Neuropsychology


Kimie Sasaki

ACE Center Adoptive Manager for Hawaii, FELI Master Mentor II, Kamehameha Schools Teacher. Member since 2009.

  • B.S., Colorado State University

  • M.F.A., Arizona State University


Laura Hoffman

ACE FELI Master Mentor II, Broward College English Instructor. Member since 2012.

  • M.A., University of South Florida


Natalia Córdoba-Velásquez

ACE Center Researcher. Cabrillo College Institutional Research Analyst. Member since 2006.

  • B.S., Psychology

  • MBA


Nicole Davis

ACE Center Project Manager. Cabrillo College Outreach Specialist. Member since 2007.

  • A.A., Cabrillo College


Sadie Reynolds

ACE FELI Master Mentor II, Cabrillo College Director of ACE program and Sociology Instructor. Member since 2008.

  • Ph.D., University of California Santa Cruz


Shannon Penn

ACE FELI Master Mentor III, Berkeley City College Instructor, Counseling & Learning Resources. Member since 2009.

  • B.A., University of California Davis

  • MSW, University of California Berkeley


Stephen Smith

ACE FELI Master Mentor II, Delaware County Community College Drama Instructor. Member since 2010.

  • B.A., Villanova Univerisity

  • M.A., Villanova University

  • M.F.A., University of Delaware


Teresa Macedo

ACE FELI Master Mentor III, Cabrillo College Sociology Instructor. Member since 2006.

  • A.A., MiraCosta College

  • B.A., University of California San Diego

  • Ph.D., University of Michigan


Tue Rust

ACE FELI Master Mentor II, Los Medanos College Math Instructor, Department Chair. Member since 2008.


Vicki Fabbri

ACE FELI Master Mentor III. Cabrillo College Communication Studies Instructor.  Member since 2007.

  • B.A., University of Guam

  • M.A., University of Hawaii