New Community College Completion Study Emphasizes Student Perspectives – Will Adult Education Policymakers Join the Trend?

Education Week’s College Bound Blog reported today on a new report published by Public Agenda, WestEd and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success Initiative that looks at barriers to college completion, called Completion by Design Student Voices on the Higher Education Pathway. The researchers gathered the bulk of their data for this report via focus groups with community college students themselves. The students’ responses are worth reading (in particular, from an adult education perspective, it was interesting to read that “most students believed that the student success and developmental education courses intended to bring them up to speed were not offered in a way that helped them succeed”), but it was also interesting to me to learn that, apparently, soliciting student views on the issue in the first place is unusual—and that doing so might be an emerging trend:

Policymakers are realizing that listening to students may be part of the answer to improving educational attainment. Other initiatives have focused on high school student voices and attitudes of students about paying for the cost of college.

Could this trend one day work its way into a prominent place in adult education research? In 2009, in testimony provided to what was then called the House Committee on Education and Labor’s Higher Education, Lifelong Learning, and Competitiveness Subcommittee, Mary Finsterbusch, Executive Director of VALUE, a national nonprofit organization governed and operated by current and former adult literacy students, argued that the perspectives of adult literacy and basic education students are often overlooked:

One of VALUE’s core beliefs is that most successful for-profit companies rely on consumer input and feedback to improve their products and services; the adult literacy system should do this too. Adult learners should be part of the planning, delivery, and supervision of adult education services and research at every level. As recipients of adult education services, adult learners have a unique, important, and all-too-often overlooked perspective regarding what does and does not work.

The consumer, the adult learner, isn’t asked for input or feedback about adult literacy policies and programs in any systematic way. Low-literate adults are sometimes viewed as ignorant – at best, people to be pitied and taken care of; at worst, people to be looked down on and dismissed.

On May 29th I was invited to attend a briefing on a new National Research Council (NRC) report,  Improving Adult Literacy Instruction: Options for PracticeThis report essentially distills and summarizes the latest research (or, in some cases, the lack of sufficient research) that informs (or should inform) adult literacy teaching practices. There were several hundreds attendees at the briefing asking questions and providing feedback; by my count, there was just one person there who self-identified as an adult learner—Marty Finsterbusch.