Arizona’s adult education system among best in country

Guest Opinion//March 11, 2020

Arizona’s adult education system among best in country

Guest Opinion//March 11, 2020

The words Adult Education written on a chalkboard

It is never a bad thing when the Governor, the Arizona Legislature and business leaders find themselves discussing the value and importance of Adult Education. There are more than 700,000 adults in Arizona without a high school or high school equivalency diploma. Adult Education services are essential to bringing these adults back into the education pipeline and workforce. But this is a good news story.  While much work remains, Arizona’s Adult Education System is already recognized as among the best in the country.

Laurie Kierstead-Joseph
Laurie Kierstead-Joseph

The story of one Adult Education student, Victoria, is a great example of how the Arizona Adult Education System is building the workforce and helping learners get started on career pathways. Victoria was homeless and struggling with poverty when she enrolled at Pima Community College to earn her high school equivalency diploma. She was recruited into the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program for Automated Industrial Technology. During this 1-year program, she was able to prepare for and pass the GED test to receive her equivalency diploma, earn multiple industry-recognized credentials, complete a college-level AIT post-secondary certificate, and receive multiple job offers.

Our state’s long-term economic outlook depends on helping provide opportunities for people like Victoria.

The good news is that Arizona has a robust, highly-effective Adult Education System that serves more than 13,000 students each year.  This system is funded through the federal law, Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the State of Arizona; and is administered by the Arizona Department of Education.  There are 22 programs across the state in community colleges, school districts and even non-profit organizations.  These programs help adults develop the academic, digital literacy, and workforce preparation skills needed to succeed in post-secondary education and in a career pathway, while benefiting from coaching and wraparound supports that help adult learners persist and succeed.

It is important for Arizona policy makers to understand the value of our state’s existing adult education programs and the return on investment.

Our Arizona Adult Education System:

  • Supports a GED pass rate of 83%, which is 4 points higher than the national average
  • Produces more than 5,600 equivalency diplomas each year
  • Integrates career exploration and career training that leads to industry-recognized credentials and post-secondary certificates
  • Ranks in the top 10 nationally for measurable academic progress.

Nationally, more than 50% of GED grads go on to attend college programs, and the persistence rate from semester to semester is around 90%. Since implementing the College and Career Readiness Standards in 2014, these students have never been more prepared for jobs, career training, or college programs.

Gov. Doug Ducey has shown his support for Adult Education, and its essential role in strengthening Arizona’s economy, by including an increase for Adult Education in his FY21 budget.  This increase is essential to draw down all available federal dollars, to reduce wait lists, and to help more of the 700,000+ adults get started on a career pathway now.  With limited resources, the Legislature needs to determine the best use of available funds.  Arizona Adult Education has a lower cost per student than private programs and has proven success in educating Arizona’s adults. This should be our top priority, rather than diverting state funds to new adult high schools that would be unnecessary if our current programs were more robustly funded.  Increased state funding for the Arizona Adult Education System could provide room for more programs to apply and be funded, sharing the same oversight systems already in place to ensure consistent accountability and outcomes.

Arizona’s record of accomplishment in Adult Education is worth acknowledging and celebrating.  It gives us a great foundation to do even more and to serve more adults who are ready to reach their full potential.

Laurie Kierstead-Joseph is the acting vice president of Adult Basic Education for College & Career, Pima Community College, member of Awareness Committee, Arizona Association for Lifelong Learning (AALL) Board, Region 7 Representative and Workforce Development Chair, and a member of the Coalition on Adult Basic Education board.