The Case for Investment in Adult Basic Education

This paper provides stakeholders with the data needed to prove that support of Adult Basic Skills programs results in a strong return that impacts both the adult learner and society as a whole. 

Kevin Morgan
Peter Waite
Michele Diecuch
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Informational Material
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The Case for Investment in Adult Basic provides information on adult literacy and to present research that highlights the positive long-term outcomes for adults when adult literacy programs are accessible and adequately funded. The Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning (LSAL) conducted by Dr. Stephen Reder from 1998 to 2007 examined the correlation between participation in adult basic skills programs and later increases in long-term economic outcomes, literacy levels, high school equivalency attainment, postsecondary education engagement, and civic participation/voting activity. The study found positive outcomes for participants in four areas:

  • individuals participating in an ABS had an income increase over time, especially those participating for 100 or more hours
  • participants were more likely to go on to obtain a high school equivalency credential
  • program participants were more likely to pursue secondary education and received more credits than nonparticipants
  • program participants were more likely to develop improved literacy proficiency over time, especially those participating for 100 or more hours
What the experts say

The Case for Investment in Adult Basic Education provides a summary of an important research program on the economic effects of adult education in a form that is accessible to policy makers and practitioners. Few people will read the original research studies, so it is critical to have summaries that can be used in advocating for resources of adult education.

This resource could be very useful to various stakeholders seeking to justify the need for additional funding for adult basic education programs. It could be helpful in writing proposals, lobbying policy makers, or seeking the support from business and community groups. 

Despite a strong research base, there are some problems with the document that are worth mentioning in the hope that the authors will address them in future versions. First, the resource fails to emphasize one of the longitudinal study's most important and somewhat unexpected findings - namely that literacy gains and positive outcomes for participants often take several years to develop. This means that our entire society’s emphasis on tracking only year-to-year gains misses a large part of the reality of ABE success, which tends to be more long-term. More attention needs to be paid to the distal effects of adult education. Research conducted by Stephen Reder provides a new opportunity to demonstrate for stakeholders the positive outcomes that adult basic skills (ABS) programs can have on an individual’s life, career, and income.

Secondly, in its eagerness to present the benefits of ABE documented by LSAL, the resource sometimes goes overboard, such as citing higher GED attainment among participants, given that attaining a GED is one of the main reasons why people enroll in ABE in the first place. Note also such statements such as: awareness of the adult literacy issue is low: only 59% of Americans are even aware it is a problem. Fifty-nine percent awareness would not strike most people as “low.”

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