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