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Why Adult Education Matters - Dr. Terri L. Winfree, President, Prairie State College

Why Adult Education Matters - Dr. Terri L. Winfree, President, Prairie State College [11/30/2015]

Dr. Terri L. WinfreeThe current Illinois state budget crisis has been getting a lot of attention as more individuals are negatively impacted by the lack of money to operate essential services. Prairie State College (PSC) is facing some difficult decisions on how to continue operating our Adult Education programs as we enter the fifth month of this fiscal year without funding.

PSC’s Adult Education Program operates as a partner with the federal government and state and local communities to provide services to individuals who are at least 16 years old and not enrolled in secondary school. Students may get a high school equivalency certificate, gain the necessary skills to obtain employment, or learn English.

Unlike some of the other college programs, the adult education programs receive a large portion of their funding from federal and state grants. These grants are what enable the college to run the Adult Basic Education program, the Adult Secondary Education programs, and the General Education Development (GED) and Spanish GED programs. These are the programs that help individuals without a high school diploma move forward to obtain credentials to find employment. The lack of a state budget means that even the federal money for these essential programs cannot be disbursed, leaving the programs in limbo with little money to operate.

English as a Second Language (ESL) is another important program housed under the adult education umbrella. According to the US Census Index of Need 2014, there are about 2.73 million Illinois residents speaking a language other than English in their homes. It is imperative for people to be able to speak English for entry into the workforce. For immigrants, English literacy and citizenship training are essential for education and employment.

The need for the adult education programs is great. According to the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), almost 1.2 million of Illinois’ 10.1 million adults have less than 12 years of formal education. This number includes the 497,870 people with less than a ninth grade education (U.S. Census, Index of Need, 2014). For PSC, this means the services provided to more than 900 students so far this year is in jeopardy.

An important focus for PSC’s Adult Education Program is to help students enter career pathways leading to employment. PSC does this by working with our Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) core partners, including Workforce

Development/Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), Adult Education & Family Literacy/Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), Wagner

Peyser /Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), and Vocational Rehabilitation / Department of Human Services (DHS). These partnerships may be in jeopardy if PSC does not receive funding for its Adult Education programs.

Other innovative programs offered at PSC, such as the Bridge to Industrial Trades and Bridge to Healthcare Careers, also are in danger of being discontinued due to lack of funds. These programs put people to work by helping them obtain credentials that employers are looking for in high demand fields of manufacturing and healthcare.

Over the past two and half years over 200 students have finished a program in Adult Education and moved on to a PSC college program. That number does not include those students who may have chosen to attend another college.

The lack of a budget hits right here in our community, impacting our neighbors and our friends. It is time to release the federal funds and let these important training programs continue. Holding adult education hostage while a political battle is fought in Springfield doesn’t help anyone, particularly those most in need of these services.