Adult Literacy: Making the Connection

Published sep. 12, 2012

This week is National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week. JFF applauds its organizer, the National Coalition for Literacy, for drawing the connection between adult literacy and economic stability. We too are committed to helping adults gain the education they need to achieve financial independence and support their families and are staunch advocates at the state and federal level for investing in programs and policies that promote adult literacy.

For many low-skilled adults, literacy training is most effective when it is made relevant to their needs and interests. Through a variety of initiatives, JFF is developing strategies to integrate literacy training and job training so that more adults can access in-demand, high-wage careers. For example:

  • The GreenWays initiative promotes contextualized training in eight cities around the country. These workforce partnerships train lower-skilled adults in green construction and weatherization, manufacturing, auto technology, and other sectors. Many of the program participants have below high school literacy levels, and need higher literacy for career advancement or entry into apprenticeships. The GreenWays training programs include contextualized reading and math skills within their classroom training, using both customized and off-the-shelf curricula.
  • Working in conjunction with the Texas Education Agency, JFF is implementing training for statewide adult education professional development staff to create contextualized curricula that link literacy efforts with occupational skills in in-demand industries.
  • In the Accelerate Texas initiative, JFF is providing coaching and technical assistance to more than one dozen Texas community colleges and college districts as they design educational pathways integrating literacy, English language learning, and technical education.
  • In the Accelerating Opportunity initiative, states are developing integrated career pathways that combine basic skills instruction with career and technical training, drawing on the I-BEST model developed in Washington State. Accelerating Opportunity states are also developing policies that scale and sustain these programs.
  • Through the Tribal Colleges Breaking Through initiative, JFF worked with 6 tribal colleges to redesign their workforce development programs to better serve underprepared adults. One of these colleges, Salish Kootenai College in Montana, created a bridge program that helped prepare near-college-ready students and recent GED earners for college success. The program incorporated contextualized instruction, career exploration, and case-management style advising to combat historically high dropout rates for students moving from developmental education to credit-baring courses.
  • Adult literacy is also a key component of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, with most sites preparing jobseekers to complete job training and helping incumbent workers move up internal career ladders. Literacy training helps jobseekers access training programs and community college courses that were previously inaccessible due to low literacy levels.

One of the great things about these initiatives is that they have raised awareness of the importance of adult literacy among policymakers and community college systems. States and cities are beginning to recognize that Adult Basic Education programs must be connected with postsecondary education so that students who earn a GED are prepared to enter and succeed in college programs. They are also starting to recognize that investing in adult learners is a way to attract employers, making their regions more economically competitive.

Adult literacy programs still face a number of challenges, including budget cuts and capacity gaps, but at JFF we continue to find ways to address the national need for increased literacy. Our thanks to NCL and all other organizations that share this goal.

For facts on adult literacy, visit the NCL website or follow @NCLAdvocacy and #AEFLweek on Twitter.

Photography copyright Mary Beth Meehan, 2010