In Focus: State Workplace and Adult Education Policy

Mar 12, 2013  |  PERMALINK »

New York's Move to Abandon the GED\xc2\xae is a Game Changer

By Marcie Foster

New York State made headlines last week after it announced it would be dropping the GED® as its high school equivalency exam—a move that can only be defined as a “game changer” in adult education. Instead, the state will be working with CTB/McGraw Hill to develop an alternative exam, the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC), which New York believes will keep costs low and allow its Education Department to continue to serve adults and youth seeking to earn a high school equivalency diploma and gain greater economic mobility. New York’s shift to the TASC is one of the most significant developments in adult education in decades. Since 1942, the GED® has been synonymous with high school equivalency in the U.S. and widely recognized by potential candidates, employers, and postsecondary institutions.

New York State’s Education Department viewed this change as necessary after new sweeping national changes to the current GED® test were announced in 2011. In that year, the GED®Testing Service entered into a partnership with Pearson, the world's largest for-profit testing company, to create a new GED® delivered electronically and aligned with college and career readiness standards. Many in the adult education field viewed the substantive “refresh” as a step in the right direction and recognition of the fact that today’s workers need higher level skills to compete for jobs in a quickly changing economy. However, a number of states and advocates expressed significant concerns that the new cost of the test ($120 plus additional fees for retaking any sections) would pose a barrier to access for the millions of individuals in the U.S. without a high school diploma who are predominately low-income.

But New York had a special problem: state law prohibits charging fees for high school equivalency exams. Currently the state covers GED® testing fees for students, but if the state couldn’t afford to pick up the additional cost of the new test, students would be left un-served. The state’s Education Department estimated that, if it continued to offer the GED® as the primary test, the choice would be either to serve far fewer students or appropriate nearly double the funds that they currently spend on the GED®. Nearly 30,000 New York youth and adults passed the GED® in 2011 (about 450,000 students in the U.S complete annually). According to a statement by the New York State Board of Regents Chancellor, “we can’t let price deny anyone the opportunity for success.” In fact, most states strive to keep the test affordable for students to boost educational attainment and economic growth. In a 2012 survey, fourteen states said they used state funding to keep the GED® affordable to students, and most states that charged a flat fee reported charging less than $75.

The role of the GED® may be changing—rapidly—as states strain to provide the same level of adult education services with smaller and smaller budgets each year. The combination of flat federal funding and across-the-board sequestration, which is estimated to cut nearly $30 million from federal adult education funds, accelerates these state budget troubles. While New York is the first to formally switch to a new test, many states (including New York) are also exploring adopting new high school equivalency options altogether, some of which base diplomas in part on skills attained through work and life experiences as well as through college courses. Wisconsin, Washington, and Minnesota stand out as leaders in this policy space; these efforts are explored in detail in a recent brief from the Working Poor Families Project.

New York’s announcement last week was the first, but it’s unlikely to be the last.  However, as states, programs, and policymakers prepare for the new GED® in 2014 and explore alternatives, the primary consideration should be to maintain access for the nearly 30 million Americans without a high school diploma or its equivalent and ensure that these alternatives support a continued focus on preparation for college and career success, now essential ingredients to economic advancement in the U.S.


Jul 3, 2012  |  PERMALINK »

New Survey Shows How States are Keeping Adult Education Afloat Amid Declining Budgets and Changing Skill Demands

By Marcie Foster

At no time in recent history has the importance of adult education been greater and the funding more threatened. Despite the fact that as many as 93 million adults in the U.S. may need basic skills services to improve their economic prospects, funding for these services is stagnating at the federal level and being slashed in statehouses and state agencies across the country. Demand remains high, with waiting lists in nearly every state.

New findings from a national survey of adult education state directors, conducted jointly by CLASP and the National Council for State Directors of Adult Education (NCSDAE), shed light on key financing and tuition policies, including how programs are funded and how much money is propping up the system from all levels of government, local programs, and students themselves.

We find that the adult education services are funded by a patchwork of revenue sources-including local, state, and federal governments and tuition or fee payments by students-and that the state and local share of adult education funding may be far from the oft-cited three-to-one ratio of nonfederal to federal funds.

However, at least 20 states are continuing to support innovation at the local level by identifying discretionary resources and partnering with other education and training systems to gain competitive grants. These innovative efforts are part of an effort to keep programs relevant to the changing needs of the workforce despite the disappearance of dedicated funding.

In addition, our research shows that most states continue to be wary of passing on costs to students in adult education programs. And rightly so, as they are typically very low-income with multi-generational family responsibilities, who must work while they are enrolled in courses. With some important exceptions, states are striving to keep costs to students low in order to maintain access to this much-needed education.

Keeping adult education affordable is not only critical for student access, but essential to our nation's economic recovery. Though economists are predicting a future in which the vast majority of jobs will require some postsecondary education, a large proportion of the country's workers continue to suffer from basic skills deficiencies or limited English skills. Investing in these workers not only helps them achieve greater economic self-sufficiency but also establishes a greater pool of skilled workers to meet the growing demand.

Read more in Sinking or Swimming: Findings from a Survey of State Adult Education Tuition and Financing Policies >>

Mar 15, 2012  |  PERMALINK »

Advocates Fight to Save Adult Education in Los Angeles

By Marcie Foster and Elizabeth Kenefick

Despite an organized effort to persuade the city to preserve adult education funding, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) board on Tuesday approved a preliminary budget that would decimate one of the nation’s largest programs serving adult students. All adult schools in the city could be closed and at least 1,800 faculty and staff could lose their jobs if the city fails to find revenue to fill the funding gap before it finalizes the city budget in June.

Word of the drastic proposal to eliminate funding sparked a significant grassroots response to save the program, which plays a vital community role by providing adult education (including English language services).  During the previous few weeks, the SaveAdultEd Campaign mobilized thousands of people to voice their support through phone calls, letters, and most recently at a rally during the contentious vote on March 13. Campaign leaders and adult education advocates also participated in a guest blog discussion series, Cut the Excuses Not Education!, hosted by the National Coalition for Literacy leading up to the rally. In spite of these efforts, the board voted to cut funding.(Photos Source: SaveAdultEd)

The proposed adult education funding cut represents a broader trend among states and localities to disinvest in adult education to fill budget shortfalls. Nowhere has this been more evident than in California, where a ruling by the legislature in 2009 gave local school boards increased flexibility to determine program funding allocations in their districts. Subsequently, state funding for adult education services declined by half—from $754 million in 2007-8 to less than $400 million in 2009-10. Other states have slashed state funding, implemented tuition or fees for students to generate revenue, or proposed policy reforms that could threaten program quality.

Exacerbating this trend is flat federal funding for adult education (Title II of the Workforce Investment Act) which, in fact, has declined 17 percent over the last decade after accounting for inflation.

More than 93 million adults need basic skills services, yet current funding levels only serve approximately 2 million. Low-skill, low-income workers have the highest rates of unemployment and have been hardest hit by the recent recession and jobs crisis. Cuts to this already-starved system that provides vulnerable workers with skills they need to access jobs or further education and training are short-sighted and could undermine our nation’s recovery. The SaveAdultEd campaign in Los Angeles should serve as a reminder to policymakers across the country that adult education is a valuable investment in our current and future workforce.

To view more photos and videos of this campaign, visit the SaveAdultEd blog >>


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