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Ask A REL Response

October 2019


What research has been conducted on practices that have been found to correlate with increased retention rates in adult education?


Following an established REL Southeast research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on practices that have been found to correlate with increased retention rates in adult education. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed practices that have been found to correlate with increased retention rates in adult education. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. These references are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist."

Research References

  1. Brinkley-Etzkorn, K. E. (2016). Challenges and solutions to assisting older adults in completing the GED: A study of what the experts say. International Journal of Adult Vocational Education and Technology, 7(4), 16-34.
    From the abstract: "The purpose of this study was to investigate the challenges and solutions encountered by Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs currently serving older adults seeking a GED credential in states where this is the only high school equivalency option available. The following questions guided this research: (1) what are the perceived characteristics and needs of older students seeking a high school equivalency diploma?; (2) how do GED programs promote the success of their older students?; and (3) what are the future service and planning needs of these GED programs with regard to this population? To address these questions, a series of 55 one-on-one, semi-structured interviews with experts across 32 GED-only states was carried out. Findings revealed a consistent, shared experience in terms of overall attitudes and challenges among these experts, as well as a variety of innovative practices and recommendations for assisting older learners."
  2. Hawkins, B. (2019). Adult education comes of age: New approach blends basic academics and job training. Education Next, 19(2), 39-46.
    From the abstract: "Forty-one percent of U.S. adults ages 25 and older have no more than a high school education, and 26.5 million people in that age bracket--12 percent of them--lack even that. Today, many adult basic education (ABE) programs are run by the local K-12 school district, but academic courses and career training are frequently lumped together with offerings as disparate as driver's ed, recreational community-education classes, and preschool. Teachers are often part time, classrooms ad hoc, and data on outcomes rudimentary. This article discusses the evolution of adult education in Rochester, Minnesota. Educators in Rochester forged a partnership between Rochester Public Schools and the Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) that enables adults to simultaneously learn English, learn to read if they lack that ability, and acquire credentials for living-wage jobs. Dubbed Bridges to Careers, the free program keeps its students enrolled until they have mastered the community college's entry-level coursework and earned a first-rung job certification--usually as a certified nursing assistant, personal care assistant, or administrative clinical assistant. Participants have earned hundreds of industry certifications in health care and other fields."
  3. Reynolds, S., & Johnson, J. (2014). Pillars of support: A functional asset-based framework for ABE learners. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 3(3), 36-49.
    From the abstract: "This paper reported results from a qualitative analysis of assets and supports disclosed in the narratives of adult basic education students. These students were identified as exemplary by their instructors for academic achievement, hours of program attendance, or community service. Themes were identified using the "Four Pillars" framework to categorize and describe assets and supports that facilitated academic success. We described how different asset types manifest at each stage of the students' progression from entrance to transition. We found notable variation in the relative importance of assets across individuals and within individuals across the phases of their adult education experience. A sense of community within the ABE classroom contributed to the ability of students to persist despite difficulties, and ABE teachers were identified as the most influential pillar in the final stage of the process; transitioning to opportunities beyond the ABE program."
  4. Shaw, D., Tham, Y. S. S., Hogle, J., & Koch, J. (2015). Desire: A key factor for successful online GED adult learners. Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 4(1), 21-35.
    From the abstract: "The purpose of this study was to analyze the experiences of 12 adult online General Educational Development (GED) students to determine the role of program and personal factors that influenced their successful passing of the GED or their dropping-out of the program. Through surveys and interviews, we discovered that desire was the key factor for success. Teacher support also played a very important role. Our findings support the interest in adult online GED programs and provide insight to factors of persistence."
  5. Tighe, E. L., Barnes, A. E., Connor, C. M., & Steadman, S. C. (2013). Defining success in adult basic education settings: Multiple stakeholders, multiple perspectives. Reading Research Quarterly, 48(4), 415-435.
    From the abstract: "This study employed quantitative and qualitative research approaches to investigate what constitutes success in adult basic education (ABE) programs from the perspectives of multiple educational stakeholders: the state funding agency, the teachers, and the students. Success was defined in multiple ways. In the quantitative section of the study, we computed classroom value-added scores (used as a metric of the state's definition of success) to identify more and less effective ABE classrooms in two Florida counties. In the qualitative section of the study, we observed and conducted interviews with teachers and students in the selected classrooms to investigate how these stakeholders defined success in ABE. Iterative consideration of the qualitative data revealed three principal markers of success: (1) instructional strategies and teacher-student interactions, (2) views on standardized testing, and (3) student motivational factors. In general, classrooms with higher value-added scores were characterized by multiple instructional approaches, positive and collaborative teacher-student interactions, and students engaging in goal setting and citing motivational factors such as family and personal fulfillment. The implications for ABE programs are discussed."
  6. Ziegler, M., Ebert, O., & Cope, G. (2004). Using cash incentives to encourage progress of welfare recipients in adult basic education. Adult Basic Education: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Adult Literacy Educational Planning, 14(1), 18-31.
    From the abstract: "Welfare reform legislation in Tennessee provided adult basic education classes for welfare recipients whose literacy skills were below ninth grade. Although more than half of those eligible enrolled in adult basic education, many dropped out. The Completion Bonus, a cash incentive program, was instituted to encourage the completion of education and employment outcomes. This study focused on the role that cash incentives play in encouraging welfare recipients to make progress in adult basic education. Results showed that the incentive increased the number of participants who remained in an adult education program long enough to achieve academic outcomes. (Contains 1 endnote and 3 tables.)"

Additional Organizations to Consult

  1. Coalition on Adult Basic Education -
    From the website: "OABE's mission is to inspire educators so adults succeed and communities thrive. The Coalition on Adult Basic Education exists to provide leadership, communication, professional development, and advocacy for adult education and literacy practitioners to advance quality services for all adult learners."


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

  • Adult basic education, academic persistence
  • Adult basic education, retention strategies
  • High School Equivalency Programs, educational strategies
  • Equivalency programs, high school diplomas, retention strategies

Databases and Resources
We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

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 for last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types - randomized control trials,, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc. (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Southeast Region (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast at Florida State University. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southeast under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0011, administered by Florida State University. 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.