The Relevancy of Adult Education in the Workforce of Today and Tomorrow


Educate & Elevate calls for advocacy work that will ensure that members of Congress invest in adult education.

The failure of the U.S. to reverse its widening education gap has gone on too long. The social stratification and economic isolation among various demographic groups that we see today, if left untreated, can transform into a significant threat to the U.S. economy and general social stability.

Adult education programs are crucial to alleviating this gap and helping all Americans achieve economic and social mobility.

What is adult education?

Adult education programs serve those 16+ years of age who are no longer enrolled in school (or required by state law to be enrolled), and are functioning below the high school completion level. Beyond the foundations of reading, math, and English, adult education has a broad reach that equips learners with college and career readiness skills that lead to employment or the transition to post-secondary education.

In the adult education space, it’s also common to find parents hoping to obtain the skills and knowledge necessary to become full partners in the education of their children.

How are adult education programs funded?

Support for adult education is getting mixed signals at the federal and state level. Many are unsure as to whether or not adult curriculum initiatives can continue to attract financial support, as funding cuts seem imminent in many cases. Federal budget proposals for 2018 suggest a $95 million cut to adult education programs, including literacy courses, as part of a larger $9 billion cut to the Department of Education budget.

To help safeguard these vital programs, the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) and the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education (NCSDAE) have partnered to launch Educate & Elevate, a national campaign to educate America about the importance of adult education in advancing career and college readiness, and making our workforce more globally competitive.

Crucial to the campaign is detailing the deep social effects of the U.S.’s education gap, as well as the weakening of existing adult education system programs, that already are struggling to achieve basic workforce development goals.

We need to see a change in our approach to, and perspective of, adult education.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to Georgetown Center for Education and Workforce, by 2018, 63% of all U.S. jobs are expected to require education beyond high school. But nearly 50% of the U.S. workforce—about 88 million of 188 million adults aged 18 to 64—has achieved less than a high school education, not to mention low English language proficiency. It’s difficult to predict how employers will satisfy their recruitment needs of its workforce if this trend continues to evolve unabated.

The education gap’s impact in minority communities is also an issue. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, roughly 87% of white students graduate from high school on time, with just 76% of Hispanics and 73% of African Americans boasting such an achievement. And although white, African American, and Hispanic students are equally likely to start college after finishing high school, African American and Hispanic students are much less likely to obtain a degree within a six-year period. 

Educate & Elevate’s campaign represents roughly 55,000 adult educators as well as civic and private-sector leaders who want to help adults succeed in a global economy. It calls for advocacy work that will ensure that members of Congress invest in adult education.

The best way to highlight the results that can come from the opportunity provided through adult education programs is to share the success stories and many surprising faces of adult learners. Examples include stories like Mr. Story Musgrave who never finished school, ran off to Korea with the U.S. Marines where he was an aircraft electrician and an engine mechanic. He started flying with the Marines and over the next 55 years accumulated 18,000 hours in more than 160 aircraft. Using adult education as a life catalyst, Mr. Musgrave obtained a GED and went on to become the only astronaut to have flown in all five space shuttles resulting in six space flights, seven graduate degrees and 20 honorary doctorate degrees. We have more where that came from.

The campaign is building momentum. Look for more on PBS in early 2018 when actor Rob Lowe highlights adult education in a series of mini documentaries. And join us. Spread the word about the importance of adult education and if you have a story of your own to share, email us and tell us about it.