Adult education programs are crucial in alleviating the education gap. They have a track record of positioning individuals for success in the workplace. By definition, these programs serve those 16 years of age and older who are no longer enrolled in school, who are no longer required by law to be enrolled and who are functioning below the high school completion level. While services include teaching foundation skills in the disciplines of reading, math and English, adult education has a broad reach that prepares learners with college and career readiness skills. These skills can help lead to employment or prepare for the transition to post-secondary education. Adult educators also help parents obtain the educational skills necessary to become full partners in the education of their children.

Support for adult education is getting mixed signals at the federal and state level. Including whether 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. The reductions have the strong potential to diminish the U.S.’s workforce standing in an increasingly competitive global economy. Indeed, the international Survey of Adult Skills survey found that the U.S.’s average performance in literacy and numeracy was significantly lower than the international average. Additionally, the U.S. has more working-age adults with low literacy skills than more than six industrialized countries.

Nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce — about 88 million of the 188 million adults ages 18 to 64 — has achieved a high school education or less

Educate & Elevate

To help safeguard adult education, we’ve launched the Educate & Elevate Campaign, a national endeavor aimed at highlighting how an investment in adult education represents a bold commitment to America’s future. The campaign is multi-faceted, relying on a combination of grass-roots outreach efforts among 55,000 adult educators, evangelizing by public figures and digital communications to get its core message out.

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

The numbers speak for themselves. By 2018, 63 percent of all U.S. jobs are expected to require education beyond high school. But nearly 50 percent of the U.S. workforce — about 88 million of the 188 million adults ages 18 to 64 — has achieved a high school education or less. It’s difficult to explain how employers will satisfy their recruitment needs if this trend continues to evolve unabated. In many cases, the pain of the underfunding is already being felt. According to Alan Daley’s “Overcoming the Skills Shortage,” more than 75 percent of manufacturers claim to suffer from severe to moderate skill shortages, while 33 percent of all small businesses say they are failing to find qualified candidates for job openings.

And then there’s the seemingly silent dilemma of what happens to all those individuals who seek out adult education programs but can’t access them. Consider how adult education state grants have remained the same since the fiscal year 2002. This represents a drop of more than 25 percent in actual dollar terms, while enrollment has dipped by 44 percent, and most drastically among the very individuals who are most dependent on such programs to develop a workforce skill.

The effect on minority communities

The education gap’s impact in minority communities is also an issue that Educate & Elevate is highlighting. Roughly 87 percent of white students graduate from high school on time. According to Educate & Elevate’s campaign data, just 76 percent for Hispanics, and 73 percent among African Americans can boast such achievement. And although white, African American and Hispanic students are about equally likely to start college after finishing high school, black 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 partnering with the NCSDAE (National Council of State Directors of Adult Education) and COABE (Coalition on Adult Basic Education) to support advocacy work that will ensure that members of Congress invest in adult education. This includes allocating $649 million for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act enacted in 2014. If implemented properly, the law would go a long way in achieving greater integration of adult education and the workforce system, as well as stressing college and career readiness.

A big part of Educate & Elevate’s campaign is to highlight success stories and the adult learners who are advocates for the campaign. Examples include stories like Mr. Story Musgrave who never finished school and 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 aircrafts. 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. This resulted in six space flights, seven graduate degrees and 20 honorary doctorate degrees.

In the coming weeks, expect to hear more stories from leaders like Musgrave about the value of adult education, as Educate & Elevate seeks to advocate for this vital resource.