November 11, 2009
President Barack Obama has asked ―every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.‖i He also has challenged the nation to add 5 million community college graduates by 2020 in our quest to regain our global competitiveness. In setting these goals, the President has called attention to a new economic reality: Most occupations that pay a family-sustaining wage will be filled by workers with postsecondary education or training beyond high school.
Yet half of the American workforce has not had any postsecondary education or training. Among these workers, the goal of a marketable credential is furthest out of reach for the 25 million who did not even finish high school.ii The main federal adult basic skills program, Title II of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), also known as the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) serves only 2.3 million students annually. iii
Title II of WIA has long suffered from too little funding and too many goals. This has hindered its ability to provide more Americans with the literacy and English language skills necessary to succeed. More funding for adult basic skills and English language services is urgently needed, especially after a decade of record immigration and the need to retrain those who have been laid off in the most recent economic downturn. But expanded federal investment in adult education and English language services should focus more on providing, in partnership with states and localities, services that dramatically increase the rate at which all students attain career and postsecondary success. Currently, most adult education students leave after just 30 to 80 hours of instruction without receiving any credential and before achieving meaningful learning gains. Reforms are urgently needed that create new and shorter career and postsecondary pathways that give students reason to persist.v Federal adult education funding should focus on increasing the rate at which all students attain career and postsecondary success. States can continue to spend their own funds—roughly 75 percent of all adult education funding—on various purposes. Just as the federal government targets its elementary and secondary education expenditures to achieve specific goals, the federal government needs to be more strategic about how it invests its spending on adult education. The following recommendations for WIA reauthorization will help ensure Title II better serves learners and our nation. iv
Set as the purpose of Title II increasing the rate at which students attain career and postsecondary success.
Focus required local activities funded by Title II on increasing the rate at which students attain career and postsecondary success.
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