More than 30 million Americans over the age of 25 – or one out of every 10 U.S. citizens – do not have a high school diploma. In Alaska, according to the Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE), more than 30,000 working age adults do not have a high school credential.
The Alaska Adult Education Association and its 15-member programs are working to change that statistic and are committed to providing adults with the economic opportunities created by education and job training. Our programs provide high school equivalency credentials, English language services, civics and workforce development instruction to more than 2,000 individuals every year. These programs reach every corner of the state, and most provide instruction that is either free or at a reduced cost for participants.
This week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued a proclamation declaring the week of September 19-25 as Adult Education and Family Literacy Week in Alaska.
Adult education programs have a long history in Alaska, beginning with the first program in 1942. Since then, the programs have grown to the point that more than 700 Alaskans annually obtain their high school equivalency diplomas through one of our programs. This year, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Division of Employment and Training, is covering the entire cost of GED testing (a total of $120 for the math, reading/language arts, social studies and science tests) for individuals who enroll in any Alaska adult education program.
Workforce development instruction is an integral part of adult education programs. Individuals can brush up on their job skills or learn new ones, such as basic computing or office skills, as they develop the soft skills employers are seeking. Some adult education programs even offer certifications for employment in the healthcare industry or as heavy equipment operators. All of these programs help move individuals into the workforce and provide economic stability for their families.
According to COABE, “for every 400,000 adults who earn a high school diploma, the economy gains $2.5 billion back in tax revenue and reduced expenses. That’s $6,250 per person! The estimated value to our economy in reduced costs for public support programs for low skilled, low literate adults is $200 billion annually.”
Family literacy programs serve parents and their young children, teaching basic skills, English as a Second Language, and parenting skills to adults while their children are provided high quality instruction. These programs are focused on breaking the cycles of low literacy, low education, and poverty.
As Alaskans celebrate Adult Education and Family Literacy Week, remember that education is a life-long process and adult education programs are here to support those endeavors. Our programs provide innumerable benefits to our communities. However, we need the support of our lawmakers in Juneau and in Washington, D.C., so we can continue to provide the services that change lives, one individual at a time.
Kristen Clark serves as President of the Alaska Adult Education Association.
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