Adult Education in the United States

Adult Education in the United States

Adult education and literacy programs in the United States provide the foundational skills that adults and youth need in order to pursue further education and career opportunities; ensure physical, socio-emotional, and financial well-being for themselves and their families; and participate fully in community life. Programs may include instruction in one or more of the following areas:

  • Basic skills in reading, numeracy, and writing for adults who experienced limited or interrupted formal schooling, or have gaps in these skill areas
  • English oral communication and reading/writing for speakers of other languages (ESOL)
  • High school equivalency test preparation (for example, GED preparation) and adult secondary completion (for example, the National External Diploma Program)
  • Family literacy
  • Citizenship test preparation and Integrated English Literacy and Civics Education
  • Workforce preparation and integrated education and training

To make program participation possible and effective for adults managing the competing demands of family, workplace, and education, many adult education programs also provide one or more of the following wraparound services:

  • Flexible scheduling
  • Job and career counseling
  • Child care
  • Transportation

Adult education systems

In the United States, adult education is structured at the state level, with each state, plus the five inhabited territories and the District of Columbia, determining how administration and oversight will be handled and how funding will be allocated. For example, the adult education office may be housed within the K-12 education department, or within the state higher education division, or within another entity.

Adult education courses and programs can be provided by a variety of organizations, including community colleges, school districts, community centers, community-based nonprofits, and adult secondary schools. Providers range from formal programs with salaried professional teachers and staff to community-based organizations that offer basic literacy classes in conjunction with housing, job counseling, and other social supports, to all-volunteer tutoring taking place through community centers and houses of worship.

For a directory of state adult education directors and offices, visit the Directory of Adult Education State and Territory Directors on the website of the National Association of State Directors of Adult Education.

To find adult education programs by city and state, visit the National Literacy Directory.

Federal support for adult education

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

OCTAE Information, Timelines, and Summaries

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