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Adult Ed Facts

What Is The Adult Education System?

The adult education system refers to programs across the US that offer instruction ranging from basic literacy and numeracy and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to high school diploma equivalency, and college and career readiness.

Need: In the US, over 30 million adults do not have a high school diploma and 20% of US adults with a high school diploma have only beginning literacy skills. The US ranked 21st in numeracy and 16th in literacy out of 24 countries in a recent assessment of adults' skills.i Two-thirds of U.S. adults scored at the two lowest levels of proficiency in solving problems in technology-rich environments. Yet, the publicly funded adult education system is able to serve only slightly over 2 million young and older adults per year.ii There are waiting lists for classes in all 50 states.iii Current funding cannot begin to meet the need.

Providers: Adult education programs operate as free-standing organizations or as part of school districts, community colleges, municipalities, multi-services centers, libraries, faith-based organizations, housing developments, workplaces, and unions. Instruction is delivered by mostly part-time teachers and volunteer tutors.

Teacher Preparation: Given that the majority of adult education teachers do not receive pre-service training beyond an orientation, in-service training is critical to ensure high quality services.

Funding: The national, average annual expenditure per adult learner is around $800. By contrast, the national, average annual per-pupil expenditure on public elementary and secondary education nationally is over $10,000. Adult education programs receive less than 10% of the amount of federal, state, and local funding that goes to K-12, and less than 5% of what is spent to support higher education.iv

Who Are The Adult Learners?

Working Poor or Those Looking for Work: In 2012-13, 37% of adults enrolled in adult basic education were unemployed and 33% were employed; the rest were not in the labor force.v Enrollments in adult education skyrocketed across the nation during the recession as adults were laid off and unable to find new jobs.

Youth: Every year, over three million youth drop out of school.vi They join the 6.7 million youth between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market.vii When they decide to complete their education, they enroll in adult education.

Immigrants: By 2030, nearly one in five US workers will be an immigrant.viii English Language Learners are a rapidly growing population across the nation.

Parents: Most adult learners are parents and primary caregivers of school-age children. Many are motivated to return to school by wanting to serve as better role models for their children and help their children succeed in school.

ADULT EDUCATION IS AN ECONOMIC IMPERATIVE FOR INDIVIDUALS AND THE NATION.

A robust adult education system is an economic imperative for the economic prosperity of individuals and the nation. The US is falling behind other countries and cannot compete economically without improving the skills of its workforce. High school graduates and dropouts will find themselves largely left behind in the coming decade as employer demand for workers with postsecondary degrees continues to surge.

Adult Education Helps Children and Families Thrive.

One in four working families in our country is low income, and one in every five children lives in poverty.xiv Studies have concluded that programs designed to boost the academic achievement of children from low income neighborhoods would be more successful if they simultaneously provided education to parents.

Adult Education Strengthens Communities and Democracy.

People with more education earn higher incomes and pay more taxes, which helps communities to prosper. They are less likely to be incarcerated and more motivated and confident to vote and make their voices heard on questions of public policy.

  1. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2013). Literacy, Numeracy, and Problem-Solving in Technology-Rich Environments Among US Adults: Results from Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies. Institute for Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics.
  2. National Council of State Directors of Adult Education. (2012). The Blue Book. Adult Education Services, the Success, the Impact, and the Need.
  3. McLendon, L., Jones, D. and M. Rosin. (2011). The Return on Investment from Adult Education and Training. McGraw Hill Research Foundation.
  4. U.S. Census Bureau. (2011). Back to School 2010-2011.
  5. National Council of State Directors of Adult Education. (2014). The Blue Book. Adult Education Services, the Success, the Impact, and the Need.
  6. High School Drop Out Statistics. (2014).
  7. Belfield, C., Levin, H. and Rosen, R. (2012). The Economic Value of Opportunity Youth, in association with Civic Enterprises for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.
  8. Lowell, B., Julia Gelatt, J, Jeanne Batalova, J. (2006). Immigrants and Labor Force Trends: The Future, Past and Present. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, 4,6.
  9. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2011). Education Pays.
  10. U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). Educational Attainment in the United States.
  11. US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010). http://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2010/college
  12. Carnevale, A., Smith, N. and Strohl, J. (2010). Help Wanted. Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018.
  13. Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy. (2011). Adult Education: An Economic Imperative.
  14. Children's Defense Fund. (2011). Child Poverty in America: 2011.
  15. National Institutes for Health. (2010). Improving Mothers' Literacy Skills May Be Best Way to Boost Children's Achievement.
  16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Health Literacy and Health Outcomes.
  17. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2013).
  18. McLendon, L., Jones, D. and M. Rosin. (2011). The Return on Investment from Adult Education and Training. McGraw Hill Research Foundation.
  19. Steurer, S., Smith, L., and Tracy A. (2001). Three State Recidivism Study. Correctional Education Association.
  20. National Coalition for Literacy. Incarceration.
  21. Educational Testing Service. (2012). Fault Lines in Our Democracy. Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior, and Civic Engagement in the United States.
  22. Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (2013).