OVAE: Office of Vocational and Adult Education
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Adult Education Facts at a Glance
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  • In 1992, the National Adult Literacy Survey found the following distribution of adults, age 16 and over, in the prose literacy scale: 25% of adults were in Level 1 (lowest level of proficiency); 25-28% in Level 2; 33% in Level 3; 18-21% in Levels 4 and 5 (highest levels of proficiency). (National Adult Literacy Survey, 1993)

  • The Level 1 population included: 25% immigrants learning to speak English; 62% had terminated their education before completing high school; 25% percent age 65 or older; 26% with physical, mental, or health conditions that kept them from participating fully in work, school, housework, or other activities; 19% with visual difficulties affecting the ability to read print.

  • Strengthening Adult Reading Instructional Practices Fact Sheet
    download files MS Word (532KB) | PDF (109KB)

Number of Programs/Activities

  • Workforce development at two-year colleges is the fastest growing area of college services in many states. A survey of community college funding found: 19 states used state funds from their community college appropriation; 32 states used funds from other state agencies (these include state departments of labor, vocational education, economic development, commerce, and human resources); and 31 states used non-state funds. (State Funding for Community Colleges: A 50-State Survey [downloadable files] PDF (511K), 2000, Table 19)

  • ESL programs are the fastest growing component of the state-administered adult education programs. In 1997-98, 48% of enrollments were in ESL programs, compared to 33% in 1993-94. Of these 48% enrollees, 32% were in beginning ESL classes, 12% in intermediate, and 4% in advanced. (Adult Education: Human Investment Impact 1994-98, 1999; State-Administered Adult Education Program: 1998 Adult Education Personnel, 1999)


  • Enrollment and participant information includes information on the number and characteristics of adults enrolled in the state-administered adult education program (program years 2000-01, 2001-02, 2002-03).

  • In 1999, 44.5% of adults 17 years old and older participated in some type of adult education program. 1.1% participated in a basic education program; .9% in English as a Second Language programs, 9.3% in part-time postsecondary education; and 22.2% in career or job related courses. (Digest of Education Statistics, 2001, Table 359)

  • In 1999, 14.7% of adults 17 years old and older with 8th grade or less education participated in some type of adult education program. Participants with some education between 9th and 12th grades (without a diploma) 25.6%; and 34.8% of those with a diploma participated in an adult education program. (Digest of Education Statistics, 2001, Table 359)

Health and Literacy

Workplace Education

  • In 1999, the following percentages of the adult population age 25 and over had graduated from high school: 85% of non-Hispanic adults 87.7% of non-Hispanic White adults, 84.7% of non-Hispanic Asian & Pacific Islander adults, 77.4% of non-Hispanic Black adults; and 56.1% of Hispanic adults. (Educational Attainment in the United States: March 1999
    [downloadable files] PDF (120K), Table A)

  • The education and training requirements of the 2000-2010 projected total job openings, due to growth and net replacement are: 69.8% of jobs will require work-related training (42.7% short-term on-the-job training, 15.1% moderate on-the-job training, 6.5% long-term on-the-job training; and 5.55% work experience in a related occupation); 20.9% will require a bachelor's degree or higher; and 9.3% will require an associate's degree or postsecondary vocational award. (Occupational Employment Projections to 2010) [downloadable files] PDF (223K), 2001, Table 6)

  • A number of national and state organizations have identified Level 3 proficiency as a minimum standard for success in today's labor market. Findings from the International Adult Literacy Survey indicate that only half of the U.S. adult population 16-65 years of age reached Level 3. (The Twin Challenges of Mediocrity and Inequality: Literacy in the U.S. from an International Perspective [downloadable files] PDF (229K), 2002, Table 5)

English Literacy

  • In 1994-98 the average composite literacy score of native-born adults in the US was 284 (Level 3); the U.S. ranked 10th out of 17 high-income countries. The average score of foreign-born adults was 210 (Level 1); the U.S. ranked 16th out of 17 countries. (The Twin Challenges of Mediocrity and Inequality: Literacy in the U.S. from an International Perspective [downloadable files] PDF (229K), 2002, Table 12)

  • In 2000, the Current Population Survey reported the following educational attainment levels of the foreign-born population, as compared to the native population: 33.0% not high school graduates, compared to 13.4%; 25.% were high school graduates, compared to 34.3%; 16.2% had some college education (less than a bachelor's degree), compared to 26.7%; 25.8% had a bachelor's degree or more, compared to 25.6%. (Profile of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2000 [downloadable files] PDF (1.70MB), 2001, Figure 14-1)

  • The National Household Education Survey found that for adults aged 16 or over whose primary language at home was not English: 41.9% participated in ESL classes in the previous 12 months as part of a college program; 28.9% participated to improve their communication skills; 14.1% for a personal, family, or social reasons; and 15.1% for other main reasons. (Participation of Adults in English as a Second Language Classes: 1994-95 [downloadable files] PDF (300K), 1997, Table 2)

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Last Modified: 03/19/2009