The Volunteer Workforce in Adult Education

Earlier this week, in preparation for a talk I was giving, I was pulling data out of the National Reporting System (NRS) on the adult education workforce. Just out of curiosity, I took a look at the states reporting the largest percentage of volunteers among their total workforce, and noticed something interesting. Here is a chart showing all states that count at least 30% of their workforce as volunteer:

Chart: States With High Proportion of Volunteers

While I’m not in a position to rank the relative quality of each of these state’s adult education systems, I can say with some confidence that most people in the field consider the systems in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Washington to be relatively robust, high-quality, and/or innovative. Interestingly, as you can see from this chart, all of these states count a large proportion of volunteers among their workforce. In Minnesota, volunteers make up 65% of their adult education workforce.

My guess is that many people would be surprised to see so many volunteers represented among the workforce in these states because they view a large proportion of volunteers as an indicator of a relatively poor system. But while the NRS data is not the final word on adult education staffing (programs only report personnel who are administered under their adult education state plan and who are being paid out of Federal, State, and/or local education funds), it looks to me like there is probably no relationship at all between the proportion of volunteers in a state’s adult education workforce and the quality of it’s adult education system.

It would be interesting to learn more about the role of volunteers in those states that depend on volunteers to such a large degree.

This Is the Way It Should Work Everywhere

Education leaders in Biddeford, Maine have come up with a great idea (reported in the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Courier): let’s take our early childhood education leaders and put them in charge of adult education as well.

If the people accountable for early childhood education were also in charge of our adult education system, I think we’d start to see adult literacy more thoughtfully integrated into school readiness strategies, as well as a stronger push for adult literacy outcomes that are more closely tied to the role that parents and other caregivers play in the literacy development of their children. (And the evidence continues to build that this is one of the key strategies we should be taking to address early literacy development.)

There are, of course, many great family literacy program models that do the kinds of things described here, but what appears to be unique and encouraging about this is that it’s a district-wide strategy.