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Kentucky  Council on Postsecondary Education
June 13, 2003

Adult Education Fact Sheet


Nationally, about one in three prison inmates performed at Level 1 on the 1990 National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) prose scale, compared with one in five of the household population.

  • 37 percent were at Level 2, compared to 27 percent of the household population;
  • 26 percent were at Level 3, compared to 32 percent of the household population; 
  • 6 percent were at Level 4, compared to 17 percent of the household population; and less than 0.5 percent were at Level 5, compared to 3 percent of the household population. (Haigler, p19-20, Table 2.3)

The Three State Recidivism Study found that re-arrest, reconviction, and re-incarceration rates were lower for the prison population who had participated in correctional education than for non-participants:

  • the re-arrest rate of correctional education participants was 48 percent, compared to 57 percent for the non-participants;

  • re-conviction rate was 27 percent for correctional educational participants, compared to 35 percent for non-participants; and 

  • re-incarceration rate was 21 percent, compared to 31 percent for non-participants. (Steurer, p. 40, Figure 1

Income, Income Tied to Education: Using 2000 data, the U.S. Census Bureau projects synthetic earnings based on educational attainment to be as follows:

  • Not high school graduate -$18,900 annually, $1.0 million worklife*

  • High school graduate- $25,900 annually, $1.2 million worklife*

  • Some college- $31,200 annually, $1.5 million worklife*

  • Associate’s degree- $33,000 annually, $1.6 million worklife*

  • Bachelor’s degree- $45,400 annually, $2.1 million worklife*

  • Master’s degree- $54,500 annually, $2.5 million worklife*

  • Professional degree- $99,300 annually, $4.4 million worklife*

  • Doctoral degree - $81,400 annually, $3.4 million worklife*

*Worklife is defined as the period from age 25 through 64. (U.S. Census Bureau, The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings, July 2002, p. 1, 2 and 4)

In 2000, median earnings of workers age 25 and over with a:

“Consider the median annual income of full-time workers 25 years old and over in 1998. Men with a 9th-to-12th grade education, but no high school diploma, earned an average of $24,000, compared to an average of $40,300 earned by men with an associate degree or $56,500 earned by men with a bachelor’s degree.  For women, those with a 9th-to-12th grade education but no diploma earned an average of $16,500, compared to $29,900 earned by women with an associates degree and $36,600 earned by those with a four-year degree.” (D’Amico, March 2003)

English as a Second Language (ESU) Programs: ESL programs are the fastest growing component of the state-administered adult education programs. In 1997-98, 48 percent of enrollments were in ESL programs, compared to 33 percent in 1993-94. Of these 48 percent enrollees, 32 percent were in beginning ESL classes, 12 percent in intermediate, and 4 percent in advanced. (U.S. Department of Education, OVAE, Human Investment Impact)

Family Literacy: Adults participating in family literacy (NIFL, Fact Sheets)

  • Remain enrolled longer than those in most adult-only programs

  • Attend at higher rates

  • 50 percent earn their GED

  • 40 percent become employed

  • 10 percent enroll in higher education or training programs

  • 23 percent become self-sufficient. (NIFL, Fact Sheets)

GED: Facts from the GED 2001 Statistical Report:

  • 1,070,000 adults participated in the GED Testing Program by taking one or more tests in 2001, a 24.3 percent increase over 2000.

  • The average age of the adults taking the GED Tests worldwide was 25.2 years and nearly two-thirds were 20 years or older.

  • 65 percent of GED candidates nationwide say they take the test primarily as a means to pursue postsecondary education; 30 percent view the GED primarily as a road to enhance employment opportunities. 

  • One of every five adults (20.5 percent) tested in 2001 had completed the GED Tests battery in prior years but had not earned a credential.  (American Council on Education, 2002)

Literacy: The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) was conducted during 1992 by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) for the U.S. Department of Education. The survey had a nationally representative sample of some 13,600 adults who were interviewed in their homes and asked to provide personal and background information and to complete a booklet of literacy tasks. The results are reported in three scales, each ranging from 0-500: a prose scale, a document scale, and a quantitative scale. Each scale is then divided into five levels: Level 1 (0-225), Level 2 (226-275), Level 3 (276-325), Level 4 (326-375), and Level 5 (376-500).

A new survey is being conducted in the following stages:

  • 2001 (Winter-Spring)--State commitment due January 1; Integration of state and national samples; field test of instruments and procedures

  • 2002 (Spring-Fall)--Full scale data collection; data processing

  • 2003 (Winter-Fall)--Data analysis; documentation; technical report

  • 2004(Winter-Fall)--Comprehensive and public reports; state report templates and tables

According to the National Adult Literacy Survey of 1992:

  • 21-23 percent of American Adults (40-44 million of 191 million adults) demonstrated skills in Level 1

  • An additional 25-28 percent (about 50 million adults) scored in Level 2

  • Almost 50 percent in the lowest two levels

  • The 90 million adults who performed in Levels 1 and 2 did not necessarily perceive themselves as being “at risk”

  • Most described themselves as being able to read or write English “well” or “very well”

(Kirsch, Executive Summary)

Literacy and Income: More than 40 percent of adults in the lowest literacy level live in poverty. 43 percent of adults at Level 1 were living in poverty, compared to 4 percent of those at Level 5.*  (Kirsch, 1993)

Adults at Level 1 earned a median income of $240 per week, compared to $681 for those at level 5.* (NIFL, 1993)

The likelihood of being on welfare goes up as literacy levels go down. Three out of four food stamp recipients performed in the two lowest literacy levels. (NIFL, 1993)

Literacy and Quality of Life: 90 million Americans are affected with low/marginal literacy. Low literacy, poor health, and early death are inexorably linked. (Hohn, 1997)

“Of those participating in adult basic education programs, 42 percent—are in English literacy programs. The remaining 58 percent have basic skills below a high school-equivalent level.” (D’Amico, March 2003)

Literacy and Unemployment: Seventy percent of adults with the lowest literacy skills are unemployed or work in part-time jobs (Kirsch, 1993)

Adults at Level 1 worked an average of 19 weeks per year, compared to 44 weeks per year for those at Level 5.* (NIFL, 1993)

In 2000, the unemployment rate of workers age 25 and over with a:

  • master's degree was 1.6 percent; 

  • bachelor's degree was 1.8 percent;

  • associate degree was 2.3 percent;

  • some college, no degree was 2.9 percent;

  • high school diploma was 3.5 percent; and

  • some high school, but no diploma was 6.5 percent. (Census 2000 data as reported on the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Website “Employment Projections,” March 2001)

This document is not necessarily endorsed by the Almanac of Policy Issues. It is being preserved  in the Policy Archive for historic reasons.

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