Adult Education: A Relevant Response to Local Needs: The Adult Education Option Is a Growing Alternative to Postsecondary Education for Those More Interested in Jobs Than College Credits

Article excerpt

Last year, nearly 2.6 million adults in California enrolled in adult education as their program of choice. With so many options available to adult learners -- community colleges, private post-secondary schools, four-year colleges and universities as well as instruction offered through community-based organizations -- one might ask why so many adults voluntarily chose to attend adult school.

For those who are familiar with the diversity and flexibility of adult education programs, the answer is quite simple -- adult education programs respond to the local needs of their communities by providing meaningful and relevant instructional and training programs.

California has more than 400 districts that operate one or more adult school programs. Adult education programs serve more than 65 percent of the adult students enrolled in non-credit literacy programs throughout the state. With a 25 percent non-English proficiency rate among the California adult population, adult schools play a key role in providing access to literacy instruction.

Despite the funding inequities, a lack of awareness, antiquated attendance requirements imposed by the state and programmatic restrictions not found in any other post-secondary educational program, adult education continues to attract hundreds of thousands of new adult students to its programs every year.

A rich history

Adult education could be considered one of the state's first alternative programs. Long before the conception of continuation and charter schools, adult schools were providing an alternative to the traditional high school curriculum.

Adult education has a rich history of providing instruction to immigrants seeking to integrate into American culture. English instruction, citizenship classes and high school completion courses met local and regional needs in the early 1900s, when immigrants from around the world came to California seeking a better life. During World War II, many veterans returned home to complete their high school studies through adult education courses. In the 1970s, waves of Southeast Asian refugees turned to adult schools for English literacy instruction. In the 1990s, in response to welfare reform legislation, adult schools implemented successful short-term vocational education programs. And when tragedy struck on Sept. 11, adult school programs were accessible to the thousands of displaced workers who lost their jobs without warning or reason.

Lifelong learning

The adult education option reflects a growing alternative to traditional postsecondary education. Many adults are more interested in jobs than college credits. Many others, who are currently under-employed, enroll in high school completion or equivalency programs, knowing that their chances of promotion will increase with additional schooling. Still others consider adult education their lifelong learning opportunity -- no application fees, no semesters -- just instruction and training.

On the average adult school campus, you will probably not find tennis courts or a gymnasium. What you will find are programs offering morning, afternoon, evening and even weekend courses. You will find adult education courses offered on regular school campuses, in strip malls, retirement homes, the YMCA, homeless shelters and even on Indian reservations. Similarly, you will find adult education administrators serving on local Workforce Investment Boards and playing a key role in local One-Stop centers throughout the state.

A transformed landscape

Unlike K-12 programs, adult programs are not compulsory. Students enroll, in classes voluntarily, knowing that if they don't find what they need, they can leave without losing tuition fees or credits. …