College Attainment and Skills

This article on the literacy skills of Canadian college graduates is another reminder that unless the PIAAC literacy assessment was fundamentally flawed, educational attainment isn’t a particularly reliable proxy for skills these days.

Investing in Parents

A couple of weeks ago, in a post about a meeting between a group of adult learners and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, I mentioned being struck by how often the discussion turned to the non-academic barriers that can make adult education a challenge for many people.

Yesterday the National Journal published a story about the Jeremiah Program in Minneapolis, which provides low-income single mothers enrolled in college with subsidized housing in residential communities with on-site child care, in the belief that a lack of secure housing and child care are the biggest barriers preventing these young women from finishing college. (A pilot program in Austin, Texas is also underway, and there are plans to open a new campus in Fargo, North Dakota, next year)

To qualify for the program, these women have to be enrolled in college, but it’s not difficult to envision how this model could be adapted for adult learners seeking to improve their literacy and/or earn a high-school credential.

Jeremiah’s return on investment numbers also demonstrate, once again, the wisdom of investing in parents (especially mothers) in order to improve school readiness and reduce child poverty:

An independent study from Wilder Research of St. Paul found that every dollar invested in Jeremiah Program families can return up to $7 to society at large, both by reducing the family’s dependence on public assistance and by increasing the economic prospects of both mother and child. Sixty percent of the program’s 2011 graduates were unemployed when they entered the program, and the rest were earning an average of $9.46 per hour. Upon graduation, the women started earning an average wage of $19.35 per hour. Graduates leave with better parenting skills, and their children get the benefit of high-quality early-childhood care. 

Gloria Perez, Jeremiah’s president and CEO, told the National Journal that “everybody seems to acknowledge, across all political lines, that the mother tends to be the primary educator of the child and role model for the child,” but unlike the calls to invest in pre-K education, you don’t hear as much about scaling up programs that invest in parents. And yet the return on investment numbers here are just as powerful as those used to support the case for investing in pre-K.

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.