Why Adult Education Matters
According to a 2019 study by Tyton, in the U.S., roughly 1-in-6 (36 million) adults have low literacy skills and nearly 1-in-3 adults have low numeracy skills. Of the countries surveyed, this puts us significantly below average in both categories and near the bottom of the list in numeracy. There are real consequences to this. Even when one factors out educational differences, low literacy and numeracy skills impact both employment and wages.
While a major portion of the solution needs to occur at the K-12 level, those changes will do little good for the 10’s of millions of adults living with low skills. Particularly since the U.S. is one of the few countries wherein the low-skill rate for young adults is nearly as high as for the older generations. Nearly 1-in-3 low-skill U.S. adults are under 35. Without new and improved adult education opportunities, many of those individuals will only continue to see their earnings potential and standard of living fall behind their peers for decades to come.
Many of these adults are actively seeking solutions. Nearly 40% of low-skill U.S. adults and over 70% of high-skill U.S. adults surveyed had participated in adult education in the past 12 months. 18.2% of those that didn’t participate would have liked to and 36.4% of those that had participated wished they had done more.
Clearly, the need and the desire are out there. But adults only have so much time in their day. This is particularly true for low-skill workers who are more likely to need to work overtime or multiple jobs to make ends meet. Then we add in the expense of typical adult education pathways (e.g., online degree programs), the uncertainty of whether learning a particular skill or acquiring a particular degree will actually get you where you want to be, and of course any negative experiences you previously had in the education system.
So what now?
There are organizations and companies actively trying to make adult education work. But there is also plenty of space for new, efficacy-driven approaches that demonstrate a deep understanding of the unique needs of adult learners. In future articles, I’ll try to delve into some of these companies and their unique offerings, and what I think an efficacy-driven approach should look like.
In the meantime, I’d very much like to hear from anyone that has tried or considered adult education, whether it be via a school, an app, courses offered by your job, or elsewhere. What drove you? What stopped you? In what ways does what I’m saying match or clash with your experience?