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Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to verify if adult education can contribute to social mobility by analysing how the socioeconomic and professional background of the students affects dropout and graduation hazards in higher education. Design/methodology/approach: An event history analysis approach, with competing risks and discrete time, implemented under a multinomial logit model, is used to investigate how an extensive set of covariates affects the risk of graduation, dropout and persistence of 834 adult student workers from a higher education institution in Portugal., Findings: Adult education may indeed be effective in promoting social mobility, as academic achievement is higher for student workers that have low educated parents and low income levels. Also, the probability of achieving graduation seems to be higher for those seeking for higher transformation. Practical implications: Adult education should be encouraged as it generates both efficiency and equity benefits. Some policy recommendations are suggested for the higher education system to adapt better to the particular characteristics of adult workers and provide conditions to improve the job-study-family conciliation, namely, by adjusting the schedule and composition of classes, appreciating the curriculum and providing orientation to candidates, and introducing shorter/simplified versions of the degrees. Originality/value: A separate treatment is given to adult student workers, whose characteristics are very particular, enriching the literature on academic achievement that has been focussed on traditional students. Additionally, the studied data set merges five sources and provides extensive and original information on personal, degree and employment variables of the students.