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National Study of the Implementation of Adult Education Under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Contract Information

Current Status:



September 2017 – March 2023



Contract Number:



American Institutes for Research
Safal Partners


Higher-level skills are increasingly required to succeed in the American workforce, and yet many adults in the United States face barriers in attaining them. Over 25 million adults have not earned a high school diploma or its equivalent. Even among those with at least a secondary credential, a lack of proficiency with the English language can be a significant barrier to a family-sustaining income and to full integration as citizens. Congress has sought to help individuals address these challenges—and the nation's workforce development needs—through Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) of 2014. WIOA mandates an independent national evaluation of adult education programs funded under Title II. A part of the national evaluation, this study was designed to provide implementation information on such programs, with a focus on how the priorities within WIOA appear to be shaping the services provided by adult education programs and the populations such programs serve.

  • How—and to what extent—are the changes to adult education policies and practices promoted by WIOA being implemented?
  • Beyond the changes to adult education promoted by WIOA, in what other important ways has implementation evolved since prior to the enactment of the law?
  • What challenges do State agencies and local providers currently face in administering and delivering adult education services?

The study was descriptive and included a survey of the state directors and all approximately 1,600 local providers of adult education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The focus of the surveys was on program year 2018–2019, which was the first year in which local providers across the country were expected to operate under the requirements of WIOA. Some key findings from the provider survey were compared with findings from an earlier national survey of providers, conducted in 2003, allowing for an assessment of the extent to which adult education programs have evolved since prior to the enactment of WIOA. The study also included analyses of existing data, such as information collected at the state- and provider-level for the federal Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education's National Reporting System. This includes information on adult education programs funded and populations served.

A report, titled Linking Adult Education to Workforce Development in 2018-19: Early Implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act at the Local Level, was released in March 2023.

A supplemental volume, titled National Study of the Implementation of Adult Education: Compendium of Survey Results From 2018-19, was also released in March 2023.

A restricted-use file containing de-identified data is available for the purposes of replicating study findings and conducting secondary analyses.

  • Providers widely reported offering the types of instruction WIOA encourages to link adult education to workforce development, but learner participation in these offerings was less widespread. Many providers indicated that they offered instruction that links basic and occupational skills, but only in a modest share of courses in which relatively few adult learners were enrolled. Instruction designed to help transition or “bridge” adults to further education or occupational training was more broadly available but still was estimated to have enrolled less than half of learners.
  • Consistent with WIOA's emphasis on collaboration as a way to improve the workforce development system, the majority of providers reported coordinating with partners to provide instruction and transition services, although challenges existed. For example, more than a quarter of providers reported that partnering to provide occupational skills training was very challenging.
  • Some providers reported challenges with performance-reporting requirements that make adult education accountable for workforce development outcomes. Although WIOA expands requirements for states to collect and use performance data in funding decisions, over half of providers indicated that aspects of collecting data on workforce-related outcomes were very challenging.