For U.S. adults with low skills or low academic attainment, finding the time or resources to go back to school can be difficult because of family and work obligations. Recently released NCES tables from the Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) give us a clearer sense of how many adults face this challenge. With this information, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers can better understand and meet the education and training needs of working adults and parents.
How large is the concern?
Previous PIAAC analyses found that nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults score at the lowest levels of literacy, nearly 30 percent score at the lowest levels of numeracy, 14 percent of U.S. adults have less than a high school diploma, and 27 percent have no more than a high school diploma or equivalent. But how many of these adults have family or work responsibilities that may complicate their participation in education?
According to the new NCES tables, millions of adults have low skills or low attainment and family or work obligations that may complicate participation in education or training.
- Of the over 40 million adults at the lowest levels of literacy, nearly 56 percent are employed, 77 percent have children, and 44 percent are both employed and have children.
- Of the nearly 63 million adults at the lowest levels of numeracy, nearly 56 percent are employed, 74 percent have children, and 42 percent are both employed and have children.
- Of the nearly 31 million adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent, nearly 49 percent are employed, 58 percent have children, and 32 percent are both employed and have children.
- Of the nearly 58 million adults with less than a high school diploma or equivalent, approximately 64 percent are employed, 71 percent have children, and 45 percent are both employed and have children.
What do we know about how to serve adults with family or work obligations?
Currently, the research on improving outcomes for adults with low skills or low attainment is limited, and less is known on how to help such adults who have family or work obligations.
Examples of questions facing policymakers, practitioners, and researchers include:
- How do current education and training programs benefit working adults or parents?
- Are work or family obligations barriers, motivational factors, or both?
- Are multi-generational approaches (e.g., those that combine postsecondary or adult education services with Head Start or early childhood education) able to improve the academic outcomes of adults and the children they care for?
- Are the assessments used appropriate for adults?
IES offers opportunities for researchers to conduct this sort of work through its Postsecondary and Adult Education topic and disseminate information about promising practices. For more information about funding opportunities for such research, contact Dr. Meredith Larson.
About the PIAAC
The PIAAC is an international assessment for adults that assesses cognitive skills (literacy, numeracy, and problem solving) and contains data on educational background, workplace experiences and skills, and other items. For the purposes of this blog, the category of lowest levels is defined as Below Level 1 and Level 1.
By Meredith Larson, NCER Program Officer