Most commonly, adult education teachers help their students develop basic skills such as reading, writing or basic mathematics. Classes are not always remedial; adult educators can specialize in any number of areas that include ESL, college preparatory science courses, computer literacy or vocational training. The variety of adult education classes available reflects the wide spectrum of students they serve.
Part I. The Adult Education Industry
This is the definition of adult education according to the U.S. Office of Vocational and Adult Education:
“Adult education” is defined as services or instruction below the post-secondary level for individuals who are 16 and over, and who are not enrolled, or required to be enrolled, in secondary school. Eligible individuals must also “lack sufficient mastery of basic educational skills to enable the individuals to function effectively in society”; lack a high school diploma or equivalent; or be “…unable to speak, read, or write the English language.”
Regardless of specialty, adult educators can expect the unique challenge of adapting to meet the needs of a diverse range of students every day. The following statistics are from the U.S. Census and they can help us to understand the general makeup of adult education students.
- Approximately 21% of the adult population has a limited literacy capability — or, has not completed a high school diploma or equivalent
- English is a second language for about 33% of the adult education target population
- About one-quarter of the target population lives in households that are considered at or below the poverty level
- About 65% of adult education students are White, 15% are Black or African American, 3% are Asian, 3% are members of two or more major race groups, 1% are American Indian and Alaska Native, less than 1% are Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, and 12% are some other race.
- 28% of the target population is of Hispanic or Latino origin.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the following basic adult education roles:
- Adult basic education classes prepare students with basic skills in reading, writing, and math. Your classroom make-up will be diverse, and students often enter schooling at or below an eighth-grade level. Teachers will need to develop a deep toolkit to help students of all backgrounds achieve.
- GED and adult secondary education classes prepare students for the five reading, writing, mathematics, science and social studies exams necessary to earn the GED. These classes can help students finish the credits necessary for them to earn a high school diploma as well. Depending on the program students may also be preparing for a technical career or profession while earning their GED, high school diploma and other career-related credential. Critical to further education and a successful career, students will also learn skills in communicating, critical thinking, and problem solving.
- English as a Second Language (ESL) courses are geared for students from many different cultures and countries who want to learn how to read, write, and speak English. Students are often recent immigrants to the United States or others whose native language is not English. Some courses include components for students who are also preparing to take the citizenship exam. Since students are likely to come from a range of countries and cultures, as a teacher you have to be prepared to creatively foster communication — sometimes, without a common language understood by all your students. Sometimes ESL classes are referred to as English for speakers of other languages (ESOL).
An Overview of the Field
Typically, adult literacy and GED teachers work in community colleges, community-based organizations, and public schools.
Training and education usually requires a bachelor’s degree and a teaching certification. Some employers also prefer applicants with a master’s degree, according to the BLS. Adult education teacher training programs provide students with effective teaching strategies, cultural awareness to work with students from a variety of backgrounds and development techniques. Getting a specialization or focus in an area like secondary education or English as a second language (ESL) is one way students become more competitive for the job market.
Depending on the type of adult education you want to teach, knowledge of a secondary language such as Spanish can be helpful. Language courses will helpful for prospective teachers, because it will provide you with a better understanding of how adults learn languages and communication skills, linguistics and language acquisition theory.
Many states require adult literacy and GED teachers to have a teaching certificate to work in government-run programs, according to the BLS. You should also check to see if your state offers certificates specifically for adult education or other qualifications such as teaching certificates, licensure, joint teaching and training programs.
Originally established under the Adult Education Act of 1966, adult education programs are currently governed by the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA), which is Title II of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, as amended (P.L. 105-220). This directory provides the name and contact information for every state adult education program in the country.
Adult literacy and GED teachers earned an average salary of $46,530 in 2010. Overall the field is expected to grow by 15% from 2010 to 2020. A combination of factors that include the rising costs of U.S. secondary education and the growth of Spanish speaking U.S. immigrant communities account for the rising demand for adult education.
From 2010 to 2020, the number of Americans who need adult education is expected to continue to increase. Many adults leave high school before getting their high school diploma and seek their diploma or GED through an adult education program.
Part II. Top U.S. Adult Education Programs
“I especially enjoyed working with classmates from all over the world. Although I never met my classmates in person, it was still possible to get to know one another via our virtual classroom.” — Sonya B. Lincoln, NE Master of Business Administration
- Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS)
- Specialized degrees: The Bachelor of Science in Adult Education is ideal for professionals who are already teaching at the community, technical and vocational college level. The cohort, online model is designed for students to apply their work setting to the academic content of the major.
- Industry perception: Named by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 list of online colleges in 2013, Bellevue University is well-regarded for both its online and brick and mortar campus environments.
- Tuition: $370 per credit hour
- Financial aid: As one of the most affordable private universities in the Midwest and online, Bellevue University offers several ways to pay for your degree, including corporate tuition assistance, military tuition assistance, reimbursement, and a wide variety of scholarships, loans, payment plans and others. The Student Financial Services Department has all the specifics.
Virginia Commonwealth University
“The best thing about VCU is the diverse population and how interesting everyone on campus is. You have so many faculty members and counselors who are there for you every step of the way and who are looking out for you.” — Robyn, senior, 2012
- Accreditation: The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Specialized degrees: Virginia Commonwealth University established a five course graduate level online certificate in adult literacy that anyone with a bachelor’s degree or higher is eligible to take. VCU also offers a 33-credit Master of Education in Adult Learning program that prepares students further for employment in the field.
- Industry perception: VCU’s highly ranked School of Education boasts an impressive faculty and a diverse range of academic programs. The online literacy program is a great way to get your feet with by advancing your education — without committing to a longer master’s program before you are ready.
- Tuition: The full adult literacy program earns students five graduate-level courses for a tuition and fee total of $5,760.73 for residents and $11,098.73 for non-residents.
- Financial aid: The School of Education at VCU offers students a variety of aid options, including a range of scholarships created specifically for Ed students.
St. Joseph’s College
“The education is very personalized. Professors are always available to help and give you one-on-one guidance. You become very close with people in your major and on campus in general.” — Nicole Chapdelaine, 2012
- Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges,
- Specialized degrees: The general studies program in Adult Education & Training is designed for the student who has previous college credits. Students have the option to complete a certificate, Associate of Science and a 128-credit bachelor’s programs.
- Industry perception: St. Joseph’s is a private, non-profit Catholic liberal arts college with a growing number of online courses. Founded in 1912 by the Sisters of Mercy this university has over 100 years in graduating and preparing students for professional life.
- Tuition: $285 per credit hour for both online and brick and mortar courses.
- Financial aid: Funding is available through both the Federal Stafford Loan and the Federal Pell Grant, for undergraduates. The Office of Financial Aid has more information.
Oregon State University
“This program provided an avenue to new ideas and possibilities. It also provided me with more perspectives when looking at responsibilities as well as working with faculty and students in academic settings.” — Marilyn Stewart, Master’s in Education
- Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Specialized degrees: Adult Education and Higher Education Leadership (AHE) is delivered online, on-site at locations around Oregon, or as a hybrid of online/on-site courses.
- Industry perception: Oregon State Ecampus is ranked No. 8 on SuperScholar’s annual list of the 25 best online colleges and universities in America. It’s the second straight year that the Ecampus made the top 10.
- Tuition: Tuition is $496/credit and 45 credits needed to graduate from the Master’s program.
- Financial aid: Graduate degree/certificate students need 5 or more credits per term to qualify for financial aid. A need-based Ecampus grant is available to students who are admitted and enrolled in program of study offered through Extended Campus.
Part III. Launching a Career
If you think you have what it takes to help bring opportunity and renewed hope to adults ready to head back to school then you have a wealth of resources and research to draw from. The federal government and the OVAE house many large state and national programs and projects designed to help improve adult education programs. The resources below will help you to get familiar with the latest in data and research related to evidence-based practices in teaching.
- The Adult College Completion Toolkit is an excellent tool to get started with. you The ACCT is a collection of resources designed to connect state administrators and local practitioners to the strategies, resources, and technical assistance tools needed to make adult education work. The toolkit focuses on enhancing the quality and achievability of adult education for four target student groups: veterans, adult basic education students, incarcerated individuals and skilled immigrants.
- The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) is another stop that is rich with free resources including databases, directories and research. The Adult ESL Resource Database provides annotated references — and often the full text — for useful documents and research for adult education practitioners who work with adult English language learners.
- Literacy Information and Communications System provides teachers and students in adult education and literacy programs with high-quality, evidence-based professional learning opportunities.
- Aligning Adult Education National Leadership Activities across Content Areas is designed to assist OVAE in helping states understand how various adult education national leadership activities can support high quality teaching and learning for adult students.
- The Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA), and The Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA) Network both offer a variety of resources, including research briefs organized by topic, a quarterly newsletter, a training guide, and a repository of research-based information on English language learning.
- The Adult Numeracy Instruction project is aimed to expand the base of evidence-based tools for adult math instruction as well as to provide adult education teachers and program administrators with professional development that will result in more effective numeracy instruction for adult learners
- Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL) , is designed to improve the quality of teaching in adult education in content areas and to enhance state and local adult education providers’ capacity to understand and apply evidence-based instructional practices that promote student learning.
A Career Spent Changing and Improving Lives
Welcoming someone back into the classroom to finish up their high school degree or a earn a General Education Development (GED) is one of the most rewarding teaching experiences in education. If you’re interested in working with adults who are returning to school after a life full of interruptions and transitions got in the way, you should seriously consider pursuing a degree in adult education.