Adult education and family literacy programs fill a large gap in our society by providing access to basic education programs for adults with low literacy, numeracy, and Technology skills. It is estimated that Illinois is home to more than 64,000 unemployed working-age residents who lack a high school diploma. There are an additional 752,000 Illinoisans with less than a high school education who are employed in low-paying jobs with limited advancement opportunities. The goal is to spotlight the growing need for increased financial and societal support for access to basic education programs for adults with low literacy, numeracy, and technology skills.
While educational levels vary greatly across Kane County, it is of note that 41.8 percent of residents in Aurora’s 60505 zip code area have less than a high school education. Even more concerning, according to the Barbara Bush Foundation, 24.6% of Kane County residents read at or below a third-grade level.
It comes as no surprise that low-skilled adults are twice as likely to be unemployed, three times as likely to live in poverty, and their children face greater barriers to high school graduation. The vast majority of these adults with limited literacy skills find themselves increasingly locked out of family-sustaining employment and often fall victim to predatory hiring agencies.
It is predicted that, by 2024, 80% of all job openings will require more than a high school diploma. Upskilling these potential employees would reap huge benefits across our economy. Adults who complete their high school diploma will unlock greater earning potential, averaging $10,000 more in annual earnings upon completing their credentials. Their families would benefit as the newly upskilled workers break the intergenerational cycle of low-literacy skills and poverty that limit the opportunities of too many of our residents. With more qualified candidates, Illinois employers would have access to additional skilled workers to help fill vital roles. Investment in adult education programs is a win for the taxpayers too -- it is estimated that, for every 400,000 adults who earn a high school diploma, the economy gains $2.5 billion back in tax revenue and reduced expenses.
Waubonsee Community College’s free English Language Acquisition and High School Equivalency classes play a critical role in helping adults unlock brighter economic futures for themselves and their families. Last year, more than 1,000 students participated in Waubonsee’s Adult Education program and more than 95% of our students who took a high school equivalency exam during the past two years passed their test. Workplace and digital literacy skills are embedded across our curriculums and we partner with proactive local employers like Aurora’s viaPhoton, Batavia’s Flagsource, and Sugar Grove’s Deep Coat Industries to offer on-site classes to support their employees’ development and engagement.
It is critical that leaders recognize the important role low-skilled Americans can play in alleviating the workforce supply-and-demand gap. According to Pro Literacy’s 2020 report, current literacy programs are only meeting about 10% of the need. Legislators must continue to provide crucial support for expansion of literacy programs. Businesses are encouraged to partner with programs like ours to provide on-the-job training opportunities for their employees. Community leaders should partner with literacy programs to develop creative solutions to alleviate the barriers that prevent so many adults in need of upskilling from accessing training including the lack of childcare and transportation.
Now is the time to take action to increase adult literacy rates. Without focused efforts, we will see the income gap continue to widen between low and medium-skilled workers, leaving thousands of workers and their families behind. #AdultEdWorks
For information about Waubonsee Community College’s Adult Education, Workplace Literacy, and/or English Language Acquisition classes, please visit waubonsee.edu/adulted or call (630) 966-4600.