Skip Navigation
archived information
Skip Navigation

Back to Ask A REL Archived Responses

REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

College and Career Readiness

January 2019


What research is available on long-term outcomes of adult basic education?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, journal articles, and descriptive studies on long-term outcomes of adult basic education. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to economic and education outcomes such as employment, wages and post-secondary enrollment and completion. For this search, we focused on long-term outcomes greater than one year. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Bos, J. M., Scrivener, S., Snipes, J., & Hamilton, G. (2002). Improving basic skills: The effects of adult education in welfare-to-work programs. National evaluation of welfare-to-work strategies. Jessup, MD: Office of Vocational and Adult Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The effects of adult education in welfare-to-work programs were examined in a national evaluation of welfare-to-work strategies. The evaluation used a random research design to estimate the overall effects of welfare-to-work programs in the following states: Georgia, Ohio, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, and California. The study focused on the following issues: the quality of the education services provided; the extent to which welfare recipients participate in education and earn education credentials; the value of the education services provided; and the value of basic skills and education credentials in the labor market during the mid-1990s. The following were among the key findings: (1) even when welfare recipients preferred not to enter adult education, welfare-to-work programs substantially increased their receipt of such education; (2) assignment to education-focused programs did not generally appear to have substantial payoffs for welfare recipients in terms of education outcomes; and (3) earning a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, increasing basic skills, or subsequently participating in postsecondary programs yielded substantial benefits in terms of employment, earnings, and self-sufficiency. The following items are appended: discussions of the data sources and research samples; five supplementary tables; and descriptions and discussions of the survey instruments and subgroups.”

Iowa Department of Education. Pathways for Academic Career and Employment (PACE) program: Fiscal year 2015 report. Des Moines, IA: Author. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The pathways for academic career and employment program (PACE) is established to provide funding to community colleges for the development of projects that will lead to gainful, quality, in-state employment for members of target populations by providing them with both effective academic and employment training to ensure gain. This is the second year for Pathways for Academic, Career and Employment (PACE) reporting. Allocations for the PACE fund are allocated pursuant to the Community College state general aid distribution formula established in the Iowa Code and are eligible to be carried forward to the next year. The figures noted in this report were obtained from each of Iowa’s 15 community colleges. Colleges have done an outstanding job implementing their programs into their regions and communities as they begin to align themselves with the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act legislation. All of the colleges have committed to building career pathway frameworks and structuring those projects that can best increase the employment success of the identified targeted populations as evidenced by the overall increase in program activity indicating the effort and extension of program growth especially as they begin to partner with their Adult Basic Education programs.”

Martinson, K., Cho, S.-W., & Gardiner, K. (2018). Washington state’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program in three colleges: Implementation and early impact report (OPRE Report No. 2018-87). Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “This report describes the implementation and early impacts of the Washington State Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) program at three colleges: Bellingham Technical College, Everett Community College, and Whatcom Community College. I-BEST is a nationally known program that aims to increase access to and completion of college-level occupational training in a variety of in-demand occupational areas. Its signature feature is team teaching by a basic skills instructor and an occupational instructor during at least 50 percent of occupational training class time. Colleges operated I-BEST programs in one or more occupational areas including automotive, electrical, office skills, nursing, precision machining, and welding. I-BEST is one of nine career pathways programs being evaluated under the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education (PACE) study sponsored by the Administration for Children and Families. Using a rigorous research design, the study found that the I-BEST programs at the three colleges increased participation in college level courses, number of credits earned and credential attainment. Future reports will examine whether the I BEST program resulted in gains in employment and earnings.”

Park, R. J., Ernst, S., & Kim, E. (2007). Moving beyond the GED: Low-skilled adult transition to occupational pathways at community colleges leading to family-supporting careers (Research Synthesis). Columbus, OH: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This review of research is part of a larger project which identified exemplary community college programs that employ innovative curriculum and instructional practices in order to help low-skilled adults attain a family sustainable wage. The project goal was to identify best practices that are replicable at other community colleges. These programs and models combine Adult Basic Education (ABE), General Educational Diploma (GED), and sometimes English as a Second Language (ESL) programs with the opportunity to attain postsecondary credentials leading to gainful employment at a family sustainable wage. The project involved three universities and was part the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education (NRCCTE) funded by the Office of Adult and Vocational Education, U.S. Department of Education. This review of the research was a first step in that project and summarizes what is currently known about low-skilled adults and programs for them.”

Patterson, M. B., Zhang, J., Song, W., & Guison-Dowdy, A. (2010). Crossing the bridge: GED credentials and postsecondary educational outcomes. Washington, DC: GED Testing Service of the American Council on Education. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “For most high school non-completers, the GED credential provides a bridge to postsecondary education, but little is known about how successfully GED (General Educational Development) Test candidates make that transition and whether enrollment rates change with time. The American Council on Education (ACE) has begun a three-year longitudinal study to understand the effect of the GED credential on postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and completion. This study reports the latest data available from a 2003 cohort of GED candidates who tested shortly after the introduction of the current 2002 Series GED Tests. This study is in support of a new effort to transition adults without a high school diploma to the GED credential and career and college readiness via accelerated learning. The initiative is a comprehensive, multiyear program designed to dramatically increase the numbers of individuals who earn the GED credential. It consists of three key components: education and preparation; enhanced career- and college-ready assessment aligned with the Common Core State Standards and enhanced credentialing process; and connections and transition services to postsecondary education and career opportunities. The 148,649 GED Test passers in the 2003 cohort study attended 2,787 postsecondary institutions throughout the United States. The vast majority of students who had passed the GED Test initially enrolled in colleges offering programs of two years or fewer; 77.8 percent enrolled in public two-year or fewer-than-two-year institutions. The majority of passers in the 2003 cohort who enrolled in postsecondary institutions enrolled within the first three years after passing the test (i.e., 2003, 2004, or 2005) and tended to take their time to progress in postsecondary programs, perhaps at a less consistent pace than other adult learners. A majority (66.6 percent) who enrolled maintained enrollment for two or more semesters, yet only 11.8 percent of 2003 passers who enrolled graduated from a postsecondary program by September 2009. Major findings of interest in this first year of a three-year study reflect a positive relationship between the GED credential and entering postsecondary education. Findings of predictive survival analyses for event occurrence of postsecondary enrollment and graduation are presented in this report. Other results include comparisons between postsecondary institutions that GED credential recipients attend and postsecondary institutions in general, and between GED credential recipients and traditional high school graduates. A discussion of findings and their implications for future longitudinal research follow.”

Reder, S. (2007). Adult education and postsecondary success (Policy Brief). New York, NY: National Commission on Adult Literacy. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This Policy Brief takes a first look at a newly identified national population of GED holders, who are compared with their counterparts who received a high school diploma as well as with their counterparts who have no high school credential. The focus of these comparisons is on long-term postsecondary education outcomes. Because these postsecondary outcomes are vital for the economic well-being of individuals and society, the Brief considers carefully the role that adult literacy development plays in postsecondary education, not only for GED holders, but for those with high school diplomas and those without any secondary credentials at all. Far too many individuals in all three groups are shown to lack the skills needed to succeed in postsecondary education. These findings indicate that our adult education system needs to be substantially expanded and restructured, not only to increase the number of individuals it serves, but also to raise the skill levels of students well above the passing level of the GED if they wish to succeed in postsecondary education. The Brief identifies other important barriers besides academic skills that need to be addressed in order to increase substantially the number of students obtaining college degrees. There is a surprisingly large unserved target population of adults who already have the basic skills needed for success in postsecondary education but face many of these other barriers to college entry and completion. Arguing for a broadened and restructured adult education system, the Brief suggests segmenting the target population for adult education into three groups: (1) adults without secondary credentials needing improved basic skills to pass the GED, essentially the current target population for adult education; (2) adults with or without secondary credentials needing improved basic skills to complete a 2-year college degree; and (3) adults who already have the necessary basic skills to complete a 2-year college degree but may need other skills or persistence supports to succeed in college.”

Rutschow, E. Z., & Crary-Ross, S. (2014). Beyond the GED: Promising models for moving high school dropouts to college. New York, NY: MDRC. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As globalization and technological change remake the labor market, it has become increasingly clear that the United States must create better educational and workforce training programs if we are to remain competitive. In order to help disadvantaged and low-skilled workers advance in the new labor market, educational opportunities are needed that can boost their ability to succeed in high-demand career areas that pay better wages. America’s federally funded adult education programs represent an underutilized resource in meeting this goal. Targeting the nearly 39 million adults in this country who have yet to earn a high school credential, these programs have served as a lifeline for decades in helping millions of high school dropouts build their reading, writing, and math skills. However, despite their promise, such programs have generally been less successful in helping students make the transition into postsecondary education and training required for better-paying jobs. As a result, many students who have obtained an alternative high school credential such as the General Educational Development (GED) certificate have remained on the sidelines as our labor market has moved forward into the 21st century. This report provides a much-needed review of innovations in the adult education field aimed at helping high school dropouts overcome these barriers and make the transition to postsecondary education and training. Highlighting results from rigorous studies, the report documents reforms that have a number of promising methods for promoting dropouts’ transition to college, including the development of new, more rigorous college- and career-readiness curricula; enhanced supports such as assistance with college admissions and applying for financial aid; and increased on-the-ground connections with postsecondary institutions. The review finds that the most promising program reforms integrate basic skills and GED instruction within specific career fields and provide enhanced supports to ease students’ entry into college.”

Strawn, J. (2007). Policies to promote adult education and postsecondary alignment. New York, NY: National Commission on Adult Literacy. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This Policy Brief is intended to help the National Commission on Adult Literacy consider state and federal policy strategies that hold promise for increasing the number of lower-skilled adults, including those with limited English skills, who earn postsecondary credentials that can open the door to family-supporting jobs and careers. It examines obstacles to moving toward this goal--with major attention to lack of alignment between federal and state adult education efforts, job training services, and postsecondary education policies. It also draws attention to the financial, personal, and family challenges that prevent adults from seeking and completing programs. Section 1 summarizes the research on why adult and postsecondary education should focus more on helping lower-skilled adults earn marketable postsecondary credentials. Section 2 describes some of the key policy challenges to achieving this goal. Section 3 discusses some current state policy innovations related to these challenges and makes recommendations for state and federal policy changes that could help more lower-skilled adults earn marketable postsecondary credentials.”

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education. (2013). Adult Education and Family Literacy Act of 1998: Annual report to Congress, program year 2010–11. Washington, D.C.: Author Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The Adult Education—Basic Grants to States program authorized under the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act of 1998 (AEFLA), enacted as Title II of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA) (P.L. 105-220), is the major source of federal support for adult basic education and literacy education programs. When AEFLA was authorized in 1998, Congress made accountability for student results a central focus of the new law, setting out new performance accountability requirements for state and local programs that measure program effectiveness on the basis of student academic achievement and employment-related outcomes. The U.S. Department of Education’s (Department’s) Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) established the National Reporting System (NRS) to implement the accountability requirements of AEFLA, and act as a reservoir of data collected under these measures. This report represents the eleventh year of implementing the AEFLA requirements using the NRS. OVAE, as part of its efforts to monitor data collection procedures and promote data quality improvement, developed data quality standards to clarify the policies, processes, and materials that state and local programs should have in place to collect valid and reliable data. OVAE assisted states in meeting the congressionally enacted AEFLA standards by: (1) providing resources, training, and technical assistance activities to improve data quality and (2) refining NRS requirements, including producing guidelines for conducting follow-up surveys used to obtain data on particular measures. OVAE also has provided individual technical assistance to states on implementing the data collection and reporting requirements of AEFLA through the NRS. The Department is required by Sec. 212(c)(2) of AEFLA to make available and issue to Congress and the public the AEFLA annual report. Information on each state‚Äôs yearly performance in the Adult Education—Basic Grants to States program is included in the annual report, as are aggregated data on national performance.”

Zafft, C., Kallenbach, S., & Spohn, J. (2006). Transitioning adults to college: Adult basic education program models (NCSALL Occasional Paper). Boston, MA: National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “While the majority of adults who take the General Educational Development (GED) test do so in order to continue their education, few go on to enter postsecondary education. Yet, these same adults stand to make substantial economic and personal gains when they use their adult secondary credential to move from the ranks of high school dropout to postsecondary graduate, with the possibility of going from low-wage jobs to careers with a livable wage and benefits. Unlike transition services for high school graduates, which are well-established, the transformation of adult basic education (ABE) programs to include transition services for adults is an emerging area of concern for the field of adult education. Identifying adult education models that help adult learners avoid cycles of remediation at the beginning of their college careers is more likely to produce students who can persist and obtain a postsecondary education credential. In the first five years of adult transition work done by staff at the New England Literacy Resource Center (NELRC) at World Education, Inc., the team noticed distinct models emerging in the field. To capture and categorize these models, NELRC surveyed adult education centers with transition components from around the United States, guided by the question: Do ABE-to-college transition programs fall into discrete models and, if so, what are the key features of these models? Through the development of program snapshots and four state profiles, the team discovered commonalities, allowing for an extension of an earlier typology of adult transition programs now to include five models: (1) Advising; (2) GED-Plus; (3) ESOL; (4) Career Pathways; and (5) College Preparatory. In addition, analysis of the aggregated data produced a series of themes and recommendations that other states contemplating adult transition services might find helpful.”

Zeidenberg, M., Cho, S.-W., & Jenkins, D. (2010). Washington State’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training Program (I-BEST): New evidence of effectiveness (CCRC Working Paper No. 20). New York, NY: Community College Research Center, Columbia University. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “To increase the rate at which adult basic skills students advance to and succeed in college-level occupational programs, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) developed the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, or I-BEST. In the I-BEST model, a basic skills instructor and an occupational instructor team teach occupational courses with integrated basic skills content, and students receive college-level credit for the occupational coursework. The goal of this instructional model is to increase the rate at which basic skills students are able to succeed in college-level coursework leading to certificates and associate degrees in high-demand fields. The authors examined students who enrolled in I-BEST in 2006-07 and 2007-08. They examined the effect of the program on seven educational outcome variables: (1) whether a student earned any college credit (of any kind), (2) whether a student earned any occupational college credit, (3) the number of college credits a student earned, (4) the number of occupational college credits a student earned, (5) whether or not a student persisted to the following year after initial enrollment, (6) whether a student earned a certificate or degree, and (7) whether a student achieved point gains on basic skills tests. They also examined the following two labor market outcomes: the change in wages for those who were employed both before and after program enrollment, and the change in the number of hours worked after leaving the program. They found that enrollment in I-BEST had positive impacts on all but one of the educational outcomes (persistence was not affected), but no impact on the two labor market outcomes. However, it is likely that I-BEST students did not fare better than the comparison group in the labor market because they were entering the market just as the economy was entering the recent major recession. Perhaps a future evaluation will reveal better labor market outcomes. The difference-in-differences (DID) analysis found that students who attended colleges with I-BEST after the program was implemented were 7.5 percentage points more likely to earn a certificate within three years and almost 10 percentage points more likely to earn some college credits, relative to students who were not exposed to I-BEST, unlike the regression and PSM.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment –

From the website: “From 2011 to 2017, the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE) carried out research in partnership with five states—California, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia—to better understand the employment and earnings benefits associated with a broad range of postsecondary education pathways, including those at the subbaccalaureate level. CAPSEE also sought to identify policies that improve completion rates along pathways leading to strong economic returns. The Center was established through a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education.”

National Reporting System for Adult Education –

From the website: “The National Reporting System for Adult Education (NRS) is the accountability system for the Federally funded adult education program, authorized by Section 212 of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The NRS includes the WIOA primary indicators of performance, measures that describe adult education students and their program participation, methodologies for collecting performance data, and program reporting procedures.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • “Adult basic education” + “education outcomes”

  • “Adult basic education” + employment

  • “Adult basic education” + “labor market”

  • “Adult basic education” + outcomes

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched IES and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2004 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-;experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.