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.


2015 NRS Education Function Levels UpdateLast month the Department of Education proposed several modifications to the learning objectives associated with the educational functioning levels in the National Reporting System (NRS), the accountability system for adult education programs that received federal funds through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The changes are intended to “reflect the adult educational demands of the 21st Century.”

Here is a link to the proposed changes: Revised Educational Functioning Level Descriptors.

By law, the Department must provide the general public and Federal agencies with an opportunity to comment. If you are so inclined, head on over to and press the “Comment Now!” button. Comments are due by March 16th.

And hey, remember that terrible budget for adult education programs we told you about last week? Turns out there is an opportunity to comment on it:

In the coming weeks, Secretary Duncan will testify before Congress on the President’s budget proposal, but before he goes, he wants to hear from you. In the form below, tell us what the budget means for you, so he can share that message when he testifies before Congress.

Generally speaking, the President’s budget has good things in it for education, so I think they are probably expecting words of support for the increases to the education budget that they are proposing. But I don’t see any reason why one couldn’t use this opportunity to voice concerns about those programs that did not receive an increase. Head over to “Tell Us How the Budget Affects You” to comment. Again, if you are so inclined.

Finally, while it’s too late to submit comments to the  White House Task Force on New Americans, you might be interested in reading some of the comments that were submitted. A few groups have shared their comments with me privately, so I can’t share them here, but the National Skills Coalition did publish their comments, and they’re worth a look.

Some New(ish) Federal Adult Education Data to Chew On

UPDATED 9/22/14: The first chart below was the wrong chart, although this didn’t make any difference in terms of the point I was trying to make about total enrollment.

While preparing for a panel discussion tomorrow, I was reviewing the latest National Reporting System data on adult learners served by Title II of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA)—now reauthorized as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

I haven’t had a chance to update the “Primer” page on this site in a while. One of the things I need to update is the “Participants by Program Type” table, which also includes the total number of adults served. We now have data for the 2012-13 program year. This may not be that new—I just hadn’t had a chance to look to see if had been updated. Anyway, the numbers are not good:

2013-14 NRS Enrollment Data

Source: Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, National Reporting System

You can see from this table that overall enrollment numbers are down once again, from 1.8 million to 1.7 million, a drop of almost 111,000 people. This is (or should be) really distressing, and again raises the question: will the new WIOA legislation do anything to stem the decline in adult education enrollment that has been occurring over the last several years? A lot of this decline has to do with funding, and the funding picture for WIOA is not good. (I realize that some of this enrollment could have been picked up by private, non-federally funded programs or via self-study, but I know of no data to support that. But I strongly suspect that enrollment in privately funded programs is not rising enough to offset the decline in WIA Title II enrollment.)

Here’s another interesting piece of data that is important to keep in mind when discussing the additional emphasis on employment skills in WIOA:

NRS Labor Market 2012-13

Source: Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education, National Reporting System

As you can see from this table, during the most recent program year, 2012-13, almost a third of all adults participating in WIA Title II were not in the labor force. We need to know more about this population. Do we? Can anyone point me to a source? I don’t know, for example, how many of them are likely to be permanently out of the labor force. Or how many have simply given up (and of those who have given up, to what extent they identify skills issues as being the reason why). I know that during this same program year, about 60,000+ of adult learners were served over the age of 60, and presumably a lot of those folks are out of the workforce for good. Anyway, we likely need a lot of additional research here. In the meantime, it’s important to bear in mind that a significant number of people enrolling in a WIA-funded program are not part of the labor force.