Adult Learners in RI's Workforce

Adult education programs are designed to provide adults at many levels of learning with the skills they need to provide for themselves and their families, advance their job prospects, and contribute to the general welfare of society.

To discover the extent to which adult education in Rhode Island achieves these goals, we examine the impact of participation in adult education on learners’ ability to obtain and retain work and to increase their earning capacity.

Adult Education in RI's Education System

Adult education is a key component of the education system in Rhode Island and nationally. It’s part of a continuum of education that also includes K-12, higher education, and workforce training—all leading toward the goal of helping learners become productive members of society.

Adult education learners in RI comprise a broad range of people, including those working to complete a GED, English language learners, and high school graduates seeking additional training. By providing academic and job skills, adult education helps these learners attain high school and industry certificates, enroll in postsecondary education, and enter or advance in the workforce.

Studies in other states, including a recent longitudinal study in Oregon, have found a significant correlation between adult education and economic health indicators, including employment and income status. This data story examines the impact of adult education on learners’ job prospects in RI, including their ability to gain and retain employment and to earn higher wages.

Life Outcomes for Recent Adult Learners

This chart depicts education and employment outcomes for adult learners in Rhode Island in the 2014-2015 academic year, with figures for Connecticut, Massachusetts, and the country as a whole included for comparison purposes. Note that achievement for a given outcome is tracked only for those learners who have designated it as an individual goal.

RI's adult learners performed well as compared to their regional and national peers:

  • Notably, 79% of RI adult education learners with a goal to obtain a secondary school credential or its equivalent did so—far more than those in Connecticut or the nation, and on par with Massachusetts.
  • Among RI's adult learners who were unemployed when they began classes started and set out to gain a job, a full 40% were found to have accomplished this goal. This figure is comparable to the rate nationally (45%) and in MA (44%), but much higher than in CT (23%).
  • RI's working adult learners led the the way in terms of retaining jobs.

This reflects early outcomes for learners who have completed their time in the adult education system, with data collected by surveys and basic information provided by state labor departments. We now move into a more thorough examination of in-state employment outcomes, undertaken with the most detailed data linkages and analyses performed to date in RI.

Wages and Employment
One Year After Adult Education

This chart allows us to examine the relationship between earnings and industries of former adult learners, one year after exiting their programs. Among the better-paying sectors employing large number of learners are Health Care & Social Assistance, and Manufacturing. While former learners may have needed assistance to attain even lower-wage jobs in sectors like Retail and Accommodation & Food Services, there may be further opportunities for adult education providers to direct their services toward preparedness for jobs in higher-paying sectors.

Industry titles are simplified for display purposes. Hover over a "bubble" to see full industry and employment information.

Adult Education: Impact on Employer Type

This chart displays workplace information for RI's working adult learners upon entry and one year from exiting adult education [top 10 industries only]. Adult Education appears to correspond to shifts in the mix of industries in which its participants work after their participation. Notably, the portion of participants working in the Accommodation and Food Services sector tends to decrease one year out from their adult education experience, while the portion employed in the Health Care and Social Assistance sector increases.

Wages by Adult Education Participation

This chart depicts quarterly wages among learners with various levels of engagement in RI's adult education programs. There is a positive correlation between participation in adult education and earnings: wages are substantially higher for workers who are one year out from their adult education experience than for those just beginning. Additional hours in adult education also appear to be associated with higher wages, though to a lesser degree (likely because learners who spend more hours in adult education typically start out at lower proficiency levels). As a whole, this is compelling evidence of adult education's ability to help learners advance up the wage ladder.

Adult Education:
Toward a More Fully-Engaged Workforce

It is clear that RI's public adult education system delivers on its promise to provide its learners with the skills they need to obtain jobs and improve their employment situation. Those who have completed coursework in the system retain and obtain jobs at respectable rates. They may enter the world of work for the first time, or for those already working, shift into industries with higher-skill, higher paying jobs. Perhaps most crucially, they earn higher wages after their adult education experience. They are thus better-able to provide for themselves and their families, advance their job prospects, and contribute to the general welfare of society.

Data sources and notes.

Published August, 2016