According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), "Adult education activities are formal activities including basic skills training, apprenticeships, work-related courses, personal interest courses, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and part-time college or university degree programs." Adult education is a valuable investment for those in the workforce - from low-skilled to high-skilled adults.
In its 2011 report, The US Department of Education indicated that 12% of the total US population are adults without a high school credential. US investment in adult education at the federal level increased from around $545 million (2009) to $617 million (2010) yet, student enrollment in adult education dropped from 2,179,781 to 2,012,163 students for the same period.
Whether this low participation in adult education is due to lack of financial access, lack of time due to long working hours, or lack of motivation or knowledge, low-skilled adults are missing out on many opportunities to improve their skills and have a chance to get a higher paid position.
Adult education is also an important step for low-skilled adults since it can help fill the gap in existing basic skills (literacy and numeracy).
Mid-skilled and high-skilled adults are generally more likely to pursue continuing education. They consider it as a valuable investment in their professional development since it offers a great pathway to a better career or position. The NCES explains that "the overall participation rate in adult education for bachelor's degree recipients or higher was greater than for those individuals who had some college or less education".
At the international level, however, participation level in adult education is higher across the board in the United States than in most countries, though low-skilled adults still remain among the lowest participants. In its 2013 report, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) explains that although "the basic skills of adults in the United States are relatively weak [and] that there has been little sign of improvement in recent decades," the U.S offers the best opportunities for adults to improve their skills and better contribute to the economy.
The US is viewed as a land of opportunities, yet many are missing on them. Adult education is clearly a valuable opportunity for low-skilled to high-skilled adults to move up and get better skills. It requires time and resources but it is a long-term investment that is worth making. Many colleges and universities provide adult educations over the summer or as evening classes during the school year.