Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

An Exploratory Study of Online Postsecondary Education for Low-Income Working Adults: A View from Education Support Programs

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

An Exploratory Study of Online Postsecondary Education for Low-Income Working Adults: A View from Education Support Programs

Article excerpt

This research investigated online postsecondary education for the low-income clients of education support organizations (ESOs). A multi-stage case study approach was taken. The first stage included a survey of ESO program directors; the second stage was a case study of an ESO serving more than 500 online clients. The results showed that (a) ESO directors hold different perspectives on whether online learning is a good option for their clients; (b) few ESO programs serve students enrolled in online study; and (c) ESO programs that are successful in serving online clients have expectations for student success, provide sufficient training and support, understand the learning needs of their clients, and are associated with colleges and universities that are supportive of online learning.

In 1995, Holmberg defined distance education as

the learning-teaching activities in the cognitive and/or psychomotor and affective domains of an individual learner and a supporting organization. It is characterized by non-contiguous communication and can be carried out anywhere and at any time, which makes it attractive to adults with professional and social commitments, (p. 181)

Welfare recipients impacted by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA, 1996) are "busy adults" for whom distance education could provide a viable option for postsecondary educational access. PRWORA promoted work as the desired outcome for welfare recipients and restricted postsecondary education as an allowable work activity (Dann-Messier, 2001). The current law required that states have 50% of their adult welfare populations involved in activities classified as work for at least 30 hours a week (Kent, 2002). PRWORA has achieved its goal of putting many welfare recipients to work, but it has not moved any out of poverty.

Research conducted by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation indicated that these new welfare workers typically are employed in low-wage jobs with few or no benefits; and the jobs require non-traditional hours (evenings, weekends) and lack a fixed schedule (MatusGrossman & Tinsley-Gooden, 2001). Among the findings of a 1999 survey of 5,200 families and individuals who had left welfare since 1996 were (a) 58% had family wages below the poverty line, and (b) the only people likely to escape poverty by their earnings alone were those with at least a two-year postsecondary or vocational degree (Children's Defense Fund, 2000). For the year 2000, workers with less than a high school education had a median income of $18,953; workers with a high school diploma earned $27,666, and workers with at least a bachelor's degree had a median income of $53,457 (Department of Commerce, 2001). In the Carnevale and Desrochers (1999) report that compared the skills of welfare recipients to current job requirements, it was found that 32% of the jobs created through 2006 would require skills similar to those acquired with a bachelor's degree. Hecker (2001) found that occupations requiring postsecondary education will account for 42% of the job growth from 2000 to 2010.

The research clearly shows that while work allows individuals to leave the welfare rolls, education helps them to become self-sufficient (Institute for Women's Policy Research, 2002). Unfortunately, the PRWORA work requirements and resulting child care and transportation concerns limit welfare recipients' access to needed postsecondary education. Educational Support Organizations (ESOs) are federally funded programs that facilitate access to higher education for low-income adults from families in which neither parent attained a college degree. In 2001, ESOs served over 158,000 participants, more than half of whom participated in welfare-to-work programs or received public assistance (Dann-Meisser, 2001). Dann-Meisser recommended that ESOs encourage "innovative approaches" to provide postsecondary access to participants. …

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