Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Leadership in Adult Education Agencies: Imperatives for a New Century

Academic journal article Journal of Adult Education

Leadership in Adult Education Agencies: Imperatives for a New Century

Article excerpt

Leadership in Adult Education Agencies: Imperatives for a New Century

As Fleming and Caffarella (2000) observe in their study examining leadership for adult education from the perspective of adult educators, "leadership in adult education is an ambiguous concept" (p. 119). This can present a challenge for administrators, who often arrive at a leadership position in adult education after having served in organizations of a very different nature, oftentimes unrelated to the field. As a field of practice, adult education is narrower and less discrete than K-12 and higher education, for example, and represents an extensive range of settings and contexts where learning is taking place. Administrators respond to and serve a wide variety of constituents that includes mature adults who are learning to read, professionals looking to advance their practice and add credentials, and members of the community seeking leisure learning opportunities. These individuals are faced with creating and developing new and innovative programs, incorporating technology and adult learning theory into curriculum, and marketing and producing programs that have a financially sustainable foundation (Miller & Grover, 2014). Depending on the size and nature of the organization administrators may be charged with higher-level duties such as developing a budget or handling more day-to-day operations such as student intake.

An administrator's responsibilities and they contexts they work in differ markedly from one adult education organization to the next. This includes formal environments such as continuing and higher education and adult basic education programs, and more non-formal environments such as community education programs. As such, the skills and abilities leaders in adult education deem important and the functions they carry out in order to successfully serve in their role reflect these differences, complicating the position. Another challenge is turnover in the field and the entry of new administrators, a shift that requires continuous attention to the matter of professional development.

Studies on leadership in general are abundant but research specific to adult education administration is much less common. Courtenay (1990) mentions the lack of attention in the research to some of the basic tasks important to an administrator's position such as how to develop goals and objectives, or how to prepare a philosophy or mission statement. He cites the need for research on "actions of individuals operating at the organization and activity level" and "specific proficiencies" (p. 73) adult administrators need to have. Understanding the role of the adult education administrator and the leadership skills and knowledge needed to be successful in the position would inform professional development activities focused on meeting leadership needs and offer a benchmark for new administrators. Therefore, the purpose for conducting the study was to describe, from the perspective of adult educators themselves, the needed leadership knowledge and skills for effective administration of adult education agencies and to explore the differences in these needs based on type of adult education agency.

Background of the Study Types of Adult Education Providers

There is a wide variety of organizations, agencies, and private corporations that offer educational programs targeted at adults. Although some are specifically designed to offer adult education programming, some offer programs and classes as an outgrowth of their mission rather than their intention. A variety of authors (Charters, 1977; Apps, 1989; Barry, 2014) have offered a categorization of these providers that include: public agencies, community organizations, adult basic education providers, and private corporations.

A number of public agencies offer adult education programming, including public school districts, community colleges, state agencies and offices, and even federally sponsored organizations. …

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