Waubonsee Community College’s Adult Education Program plays a critical role in helping non-native English speakers and newly arrived individuals unlock brighter economic futures for themselves and their families through English language instruction, Illinois high school diploma preparation, and adult academic skills enhancement.
According to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, the Waubonsee Community College district welcomed 6,008 newly arrived refugees and immigrants from countries across the world. Many of these newly arrived community members have found a home at Waubonsee’s Adult Education program.
"Our goal in Adult Education is to empower our students to overcome the challenges they face, achieve their educational goals, and open a path to greater opportunity,” said Adam Schauer, Dean for Adult Education and Workforce Development. “The skills we teach are essential to economic security and upward mobility.”
This year, Waubonsee has seen record growth in its Adult Education Program, with enrollments exceeding pre-COVID numbers. This growth can be attributed to the strong connections Waubonsee has built with its community and employer partners. Since July 2022, more than 2,100 individuals have accessed these free classes online, at multiple employer sites, and at Waubonsee’s four campus locations, including the Aurora Downtown Campus, Aurora Fox Valley Campus, and Plano Campus.
At its March board meeting, Waubonsee recognized its Adult Education Program and faculty for the significant impact it has made towards empowering individuals in the community to fully engage with their education, career, and family lives.
"I love taking the English conversation classes at Waubonsee," said Adriana Salazar, owner of Elements Beauty Salon in Plano. "As a business owner, it is important that I can build relationships with those in my community. The classes have given me the confidence to communicate with my clientele and build trust effectively."
Salazar, from Cali, Colombia, is one example of the economic impact immigrants have on our area. The American Immigration Council reports that immigrants represent one-fifth of Illinois’ self-employed business owners and generate over $2.5 billion in annual revenue for the state.
“Waubonsee Community College has invested heavily in serving adult learners, recognizing that helping these students achieve success leads to significant economic and social benefits,” said Schauer.
Adult Education English Language Acquisition (ELA) students come to Waubonsee from 49 countries and speak 37 native languages. Some students have already earned their high school, bachelor's, or advanced degrees in their country.
"Waubonsee, for me, is a great institution that helps adults from all different countries obtain success,” said Dr. Miguel Guitron, former university president from Mexico and an Adult Education student. “All of their class offerings and materials provide solutions for individuals who lack English literacy required for daily living, basic access, and the skills needed to overcome substantial economic and professional barriers.”
The need for these programs is exponential as expressed from demographic information collected from the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Department of Economics and Finance. Data from their 2021-2022 fiscal year report indicate that there are over 90,000 non-English speaking individuals in Waubonsee's district and over 40,000 who lack a high school diploma. According to the Barbara Bush Foundation, 24.6% of Kane County residents read at or below a third-grade level.
The Center for American Progress shows 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. Many of these adults with limited literacy skills find themselves increasingly locked out of family-sustaining employment and often fall victim to predatory hiring agencies.
“Completion of the Illinois High School Diploma is transformative for our students. Not only does it increase the opportunities available to the recipient, it causes generational change, positively affecting their children and children’s children," said Schauer.
By 2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 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 many of our residents. With more qualified candidates, area employers have access to additional skilled workers to help fill vital roles. Investment in adult education programs is a win for the taxpayers too--for every 400,000 adults who earn a high school diploma, the economy gains $2.5 billion back in tax revenue and reduced expenses according to the Coalition on Adult Basic Education.
"Workplace and digital literacy skills are also embedded across our curriculums, and we partner with proactive local employers to offer on-site classes to support their employees' development and engagement," added Schauer.
Anna Patricia Gomez, of Batavia, said she chose to pursue her education at Waubonsee for several reasons. "I wanted to communicate effectively to express my ideas, feelings, and needs clearly and directly,” said Gomez. “In addition to learning English, it's allowed me to meet people from different parts of the world and learn about their cultures."
Waubonsee Community College draws its students from a diverse community of learners with more than 450,000 residents across a 624-square-mile geographic area. Those residents live in or near 22 municipalities that stretch across suburban, rural, and urban areas.
For more information about Waubonsee's Adult Education Program, visit waubonsee.edu/adulted.