If ever there were a time to expand the capacity of adult education programs, it would be now.
Recent employment numbers show a very weak US economy with measly job growth and a stubborn unemployment rate above 8%. Add in the underemployed and the people who have just plain given up looking for a job and we are looking at an actual unemployment rate in the mid-teens if not worse. What we have going on is a change in the employment makeup of the United States from manufacturing and traditional businesses into the service sector, including healthcare and new industries that didn’t exist ten years ago. We need a comprehensive continuing education plan to help young adults and older adults retrain and prepare themselves for new careers. Otherwise, we will not see the unemployment numbers drop to more “normal” levels for months if not years.
So how do you train adults for these new careers or help an unemployed person get a GED or retrain for a new job? One option is to send them to an adult or continuing education program. What does adult education do? It teaches adults how to speak English better, increase their basic literacy and overall education, earn GEDs or a high school diploma and then go on to higher education at a community college, university or technical school. Some adult and continuing education organizations also offer technical training and can get students certified to work in hospitals, autobody shops, welders, you name it. These can be very well paying jobs that help support families. Every state has some type of adult continuing education. Some are funded by the state. Others are funded by grants or run by private organizations, both non-profit and for-profit
So what do we see happening instead right now? Cutbacks to education, including adult education. Massive cutbacks! Take a look at Los Angeles County. Their adult education division used to serve 350,000 adults per year. Today, they are looking at completely shutting it down. What does that mean long term?
1. These adults will have a harder time finding training and education at a price they can afford.
2. They will not get the higher paying job they want. Or any job.
3. They won’t pay taxes – state, federal and local sales taxes. You don’t spend much money when you don’t have a good job.
4. They won’t support local businesses, buy property, buy cars.
5. They will have a harder time supporting their kids’ progress in Elementary, Middle and High School. How can you argue with a kid when you yourself dropped out at a young age?
Saving money by cutting adult and continuing education funding to solve a short term budget gap is a travesty. Long-term damage to the city, state and community will occur. And getting these programs restarted when the economy finally turns around will be difficult if not impossible. And things will turn around. Some day. We need to press our elected officials to look closely into these long-term consequences of their short-term funding decisions for adult education. Cutting budgets is hard. Just ask the US Congress. But it can be done and it can be done intelligently.
PS: Check out these recent articles that highlight these points:
Ailing adult education in CA: http://daphne.palomar.edu/lchen/EndingCAPublicAdult%20EdThruPolicy.pdf
Los Angeles cutbacks in Adult Education: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/01/opinion/la-oe-mccormick-adult-esl-cutbacks-20120501