Academic journal article Adult Learning

Bridging the Great Divide: Approaches That Help Adults Navigate from Adult Education to College

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Bridging the Great Divide: Approaches That Help Adults Navigate from Adult Education to College

Article excerpt

America is becoming a less educated nation (National Commission on Adult Literacy, 2008). While this is frequently measured through comparisons of the number of adults with college degrees, strategies to address sagging educational attainment statistics in the United States are typically focused on K-12 reforms--mostly through expanded definitions of college readiness. In the past, college readiness has been "defined primarily in terms of high school courses taken and grades received along with scores on national tests as its primary metrics" (Conley, 2008, p. 5). Creating a more robust definition of college readiness is important, yet K-12 efforts do not provide a model that supports adults attempting to access and succeed in college, especially first-time college-goers.

Focusing solely on youth will not fill the nation's widening education and skills gap (Strawn, 2007). Currently, two-thirds of our workforce is beyond the reach of virtually all K-12 reform efforts. Of those, 88 million adults in our current workforce have at least one major barrier to further education: no high school diploma, no college experience, or limited proficiency in English (National Commission on Adult Literacy, 2008).

Thinking in terms of college readiness for adults is particularly compelling for U.S. colleges and universities. Over 70% of current undergraduates are considered nontraditional: older students, parents (especially single parents), students who work fulltime, students who are financially independent, and/or students who come to college without a traditional high school diploma (U.S. Department of Education, NCES, 2002). Entering college with basic skills needs requiring more than a year of reading remediation significantly lowers the likelihood of success (Adelman, 1998). This paper examines a subset of those nontraditional students--individuals from adult education programs, and describes a study of program models designed to better prepare adults for college.

About Adult Education

As required by federal funding, all states provide Adult Basic Education (ABE), Adult Secondary Education (ASE) or General Educational Development (GED) preparation, and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. State adult education departments may also provide other programs, such as Family Literacy and EL/Civics (integrated instructional programs and services that incorporate both English literacy instruction and civics education). Overall, federal funding represents 25% of the total spending on adult education, with state resources accounting for the remaining funds; seven states account for approximately 80% of total state investment in adult education, giving a range of total cost per student falling between $350 and $2,100. The average yearly total cost per student is $812 (Duke, 2007).

Governance and service provision varies from state to state. Thirty-one states administer adult education through their K-12 department, 14 through a postsecondary agency, and 5 through departments of labor (Morest, 2004). Services may be delivered through school districts, colleges and universities, community-based organizations, libraries, housing authorities, correctional facilities, to name a few.

Are Adult Education Students Interested in College?

Providing formal transition supports and services is a relatively new area of concern for adult education. In looking at this activity, the first question that should be asked is: what evidence do we have that adult education students actually want to go on to college? One way to document student interests is by the goals students set while they are in adult education programs. This is theoretically possible for adults participating in federally-funded adult education programs because federal guidelines require that programs document student goals and outcomes.

The National Reporting System (NRS) is the state-administered accountability system used by the Office of Adult and Vocational Education, U. …

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