Beyond the basics: Integrating workforce and college-readiness training into California’s adult basic skills programs
In the United States of America, approximately one in ten adults — nearly 36 million people — lack basic literacy and numeracy skills, while 27 million adults lack a high school diploma. Federally funded adult basic skills programs, such as Adult Basic Education (ABE) and Adult Secondary Education (ASE) courses, have traditionally served the educational needs of low-skilled adults. However, these programs have struggled to help undereducated adults transition into postsecondary education and the workforce. Over the last decade, new models for adult education have emerged that integrate basic skills education with workforce and college-readiness training. These integrated programs show new promise for increasing the academic and labor market successes of low-skilled adults — and they have been catching on across the country. With one of the nation’s largest educational systems, California provides a unique environment for studying these trends. State leaders have been highly active in developing career pathway models that integrate academic and workforce training in their K-12 and workforce sectors; however, less is known about how these programs are being integrated into adult basic skills education. With support from The James Irvine Foundation, MDRC researchers conducted phone interviews and site visits with 39 adult basic skills programs and leaders throughout California to learn more about the state’s programming and offerings. This report analyzes the need for adult basic skills programming across the state of California, the status of programs in high-need areas, and promising models that integrate workforce and college-readiness training with adult basic skills education. This report makes clear that The Irvine Foundation’s priority regions, including the San Joaquin Valley and the Salinas Valley as well as Riverside and San Bernardino counties, have some of the highest concentrations of undereducated and impoverished adults in the state, accounting for over one-fourth of the state’s low-skilled adult populations. Additionally, adult basic skills programming in these regions is still recovering from severe budget cutbacks in 2008 to 2012, when many programs were forced to close or dramatically reduce their enrollments due to the Great Recession. As a result, many programs focused more on rebuilding their core offerings and less on integrating adult basic skills instruction with workforce and college-readiness services. MDRC researchers were able to identify 10 programs in the priority regions and across the state that had integrated basic skills education with workforce and college preparation. A relatively limited number of programs existed within the state’s traditional ABE and ASE programs, so programs in other sectors such as workforce development are also highlighted. The report reveals that several opportunities exist for strengthening the development of these programs within adult basic skills schools, building on the lessons learned from promising programs in California. It also sets forth key incentives and structured learning opportunities for expanding integrated adult basic skills programs on a larger scale in California — and beyond.