The Why Behind Adult Education

By Kevin Hunter

“To get my G.E.D.” These are six words I hope we can put to rest as we begin a new year. Ask a new adult learner why they are here and you might hear them as well. Hopefully it won’t become seven words in 2014, “To get my high school equivalency diploma (HSED)”. We need to dig deeper to find other words that get us to the real why and the real driving force behind a student’s persistence. Without knowing and focusing on the true why, we all struggle to stay at something long enough for it to become reality.

So let me pose the same question to you and all those who support adult education, “Why are you here? Why do you teach, direct, or provide general support for adult education? Why do you work to improve, expand, or keep doors open for adult education? Allow me to do my best in providing you with a multitude of external reasons for the WHY behind adult education.

In a for-profit business, the “WHY” is all about the ROI, return on investment. So let’s begin with the ROI in adult education. Over the past few years, overall funding in education has experienced recessionary cuts. This has prompted many states to take a closer look at the return for each tax dollar invested. Thankfully, the ROI in adult education has proven to be one of the most cost effective use of funds available.

Arkansas did some calculations after the 2008-09 program year and conservatively showed a return of investment of 43%. New Mexico, looking at the same year, determined that an investment of $6.5 million in 2008-09 on adult education would generate a return of over $38 million. A year later a study in Georgia put their adult education ROI at nearly 300%.

These are great statistics; however, these numbers are too far removed from my “WHY” to suit me. Allow me to bring it closer to home by sharing one more student success story. (Listen to more student stories on our website.) A few years back, one of our adult learners, a 19 year old male, was hospitalized during his senior year of high school. According to this young man, the school called him at the hospital and said he wasn’t going to be able to graduate, so he should just drop out. He did.

Our state and the young man’s local school district had already invested an estimated $100,000 in his education. Although I believe over time this investment would be returned, why not spend a few more dollars (through adult education) to help insure his success in the job market? That is exactly what happened. He came to our local AE center, where we were spending approximately $500 per learner, and completed his high school equivalency diploma.

After earning his HSED, he received training in operating heavy equipment. Now I suspect he pays more in income taxes each month than our original AE investment. In addition to the income tax revenue being generated, he will buy more things (sales tax), own a bigger house (property tax) and spend more on vehicles (excise tax). The additional spending and investing will support additional jobs and increase the gross regional products of our area. He does not need food stamps or welfare benefits. He will save us an estimated $40,000 in public health care benefits over the course of his lifetime. He will be a more productive citizen, more apt to vote, and 50% less likely to be incarcerated. He will likely become fully engaged in his children’s education, and they will be better able to learn and succeed. He will experience higher levels of self-esteem and live longer. Most importantly, he will pay into a social security system that I can hopefully take advantage of in a few years. 🙂

Not bad for a $500 investment, and to think we might have just thrown away the original $100,000 investment if not for adult education. I like to use the following analogy for spending $100,000 on a dropout and then not spending a little more to complete their secondary education: It is like buying a brand new Mercedes and then not putting tires on it.

Somewhere in this blog I hope you are able to find your “why behind adult education”. I find my “why” in knowing that I played a role in someone’s ability to find personal happiness and healthiness. I firmly believe education adds value to life.

Now that the economy is starting to turn around, we will need to get in line as dollars are being budgeted to explain the “why behind adult education” to our elected officials and others who need to know the ROI generated by adult education. I hope this blog entry helps. Make plans today to join us at the statehouse on March 11, 2014. On this day, you too can share your why and be a leading advocate for adult education.

I welcome your comments or questions in this blog post or in a forum discussion that you may want to open.

Thanks for reading and for doing your part as we continue to open doors for adults through education.

Kevin Hunter
President, IAACE