State Profiles of Adult Students
Introduction and Summary by Stacey Zis
The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) received support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2009 to study state policies that foster “adult re-entry pipeline” student progression and success. The adult re-entry pipeline consists of alternative pathways available for adults aged 22 and older to obtain postsecondary credentials. This population is comprised of three groups: those who never completed their high school degrees, those who began postsecondary study but did not finish, and those who graduated from high school but never enrolled in postsecondary study.
While much is known about policies – both state and federal – for traditional pathways to and through postsecondary education, there is little systematic knowledge about state policies to support adults as they pursue higher education. The purpose of the NCHEMS study of state policies regarding the adult re-entry pipeline was to collect and document these often fragmentary and lesser known efforts.
As part of this project, staff developed and produced a statistical diagnostic report on the adult re-entry pipeline for each state, using NCHEMS’ extensive data holdings (see www.higheredinfo.org). This report documents the size of the various component populations, together with data about the rates at which each population enters, persists, and completes postsecondary credentials. These State Profiles of Adult Students provide an important statistical supplement to the individual state narrative reports from the fifty-state inventory.
The State Profiles of Adult Students focus on four areas: adults in need of postsecondary education and training, the states’ adult population compared to the U.S. and top states, reaching the target population, and the benefits of more education.
Adults in Need of Adult Education and Training. The factors that can be attributed to adults (age 18-64) needing adult education and training are:
No high school diploma (or equivalent)
No college education
Earning less than a living wage
Speaks little or no English
Any one of these challenges point to a need for additional education and training and in many cases, the adult population faces a combination of the factors.
Adult Population Compared to the U.S. and Top States. Data on adults with no high school diploma are presented for both young adults (age 18-24) and older adults (age 25-64). The data, for the years 2000 and 2010, are compared to the national average and the average of the top five states for each age group.
Each state profile provides a comparison of the state in the data year 2000 and 2010, the United States average, and the average of the top five states for each measure: the percentage of adults that speak English poorly or not at all, the percentage of adults with a high school diploma or less in families not earning a living wage, and for the educational gaps between adult whites and minorities for high school and college attainment.
Reaching the Target Population. Programs such as state-administered ABE (Adult Basic Education), ESL (English as a Second Language), and GED (General Education Development) programs can assist with the challenges the adult population – the target population – faces as they seek additional education and training.
Each state profile provides a comparison of the state in the data year 2000 and 2010, the United State average, and the average of the top five states for enrollment per 1,000 adults age 18-64 in state-administered ABE programs and ESL programs. In addition, GEDs awarded per 1,000 adults with less than a high school diploma data are displayed as compared to data in 2000 and 2010, the United State average, and the average of the top five states. Additionally, data from 2001 and 2009 for college participation of adults as a percent of the population age 25-49 with only a high school diploma are compared to the national average and the average of the top five states.
The Benefits of More Education. Data shows that adults with higher levels of education are more likely to participate in the workforce and earn more money than adults with less than a college degree. These benefits are shown for a given state in the final portion of the Profile.
Collectively, the Profiles show considerable differences across states with respect to all four of these diagnostic dimensions.
For example, more than 28% of Alabama’s adult population is in the high need category while only 17% of the adult population in Connecticut is similarly situated. On the other hand, attainment gaps between whites and minorities are well above the national average and growing for Connecticut, while such gaps are below average in Alabama (although overall attainment levels remain low in Alabama for both race/ethnic groups). Finally, median annual earnings of those earning graduate or professional degrees in Connecticut exceed $75,000, while counterpart degree holders in Alabama earn only about $53,000 per year.