Getting Arkansans job-ready

Posted: November 8, 2017 at 1 a.m.

With the help of dedicated center directors, teachers and numerous volunteers, 27,796 adults have changed their lives by acquiring essential life-changing skills.

The Arkansas Department of Career Education's Adult Education Division is on a mission to empower adult Arkansans with the skills they need to be prepared for higher education and new job opportunities in their communities. This work is vital to the overall strength of our state's economy.

Northwest Arkansas area adult education agencies participating in today’s Arkansas Night In open house from 5 to 7 p.m. today:

NorthWest Arkansas Community College

Adult Education Center

1000 S.E. Eagle Way, Bentonville

Ozark Literacy Council

2596 Keystone Crossing, Fayetteville

Fayetteville Adult Education Program

Jefferson Center

612 S.College Avenue, Fayetteville

North Arkansas College Adult Education

303 North Main Street, Harrison

Fort Smith Adult Education Center

501 S. 20th St.

Adult Education is helping Arkansans transform their lives by offering these free programs:

• General Education Development testing for an Arkansas high school diploma;

• Accelerating Opportunity, offered at our centers on the campuses of five Arkansas colleges. Participants earn a high school diploma and receive high-demand and high-skill occupational training simultaneously;

• English Language Acquisition, classes that teach reading, writing, speaking, comprehension of the English language, and workplace skills;

• Workplace Training partners directly with businesses to help train employees and improve the productivity of the workforce;

• Re-entry education assists individuals who have been incarcerated to gain the necessary academic and workplace skills to transition successfully back into society.

• Workforce Alliance for Growth in the Economy, a job training program for unemployed or underemployed individuals in which adults can earn six certificates, preparing them for jobs in offices, banks, customer service departments and industrial settings. The WAGE program benefits employers by training graduates to be more productive, with improved customer service skills and improved safety performance.

Successful completion of one of these programs yields outstanding results. People who obtain high school diplomas earn about $570,000 more during their lifetimes than those without high school credentials. WAGE certificate holders increase their earnings by nearly $5,000 per year. And studies show that correctional education programs reduce the risk of re-incarceration by 13 percent, which ultimately benefits taxpayers; every $1 spent educating the incarcerated saves $4 to $6 in re-incarceration costs.

For every dollar invested in adult basic education, a community receives $60 back in increased income, property taxes, and savings on welfare and legal system expenses. And more than money, Adult Education is helping break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Children of adults who earn high school diplomas are less likely to end up in poverty or prison.

Adult Education has 36 centers throughout the state, and we are making great progress in getting adults educated. Our pass rate for the GED assessment is 95 percent, while the national average is 79 percent.

Our graduates are defying the odds. Last year we helped more than 3,600 students earn their high school diplomas and more than 3,700 improve their English-language skills. This includes individuals like Kevin Hunt. Since passing the GED, Kevin has earned bachelor's and master's degrees, worked in the office of former governor Mike Beebe, and now serves as a Community Philanthropy Fellow at the Clinton School of Public Service Center on Community Philanthropy.

And there's Lorena Fitzpatrick, who received her high school diploma after passing the GED. She's now a full-time college student working to fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. She also works at an Adult Education Center helping fellow Arkansans improve their English-language skills.

Kevin and Lorena are like so many Arkansans who need our services. A good number of the adults who participate in our programs face tremendous circumstances, such as needing to contribute to their families' income or becoming the primary earner for their families. Others fell behind in school and never caught up.

While we face many issues in our country, the need to address adult education is of utmost importance. Economists predict that by 2020, 75 percent of all jobs will require some post-secondary education and training beyond high school. Further, individuals who have low literacy skills are four times more likely to be in poor health and visit emergency rooms more often, costing taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars annually, according to ProLiteracy.

Arkansas Adult Education is helping residents of our state move ahead by offering free programs and services that provide the skills needed to succeed.

Arkansas' Night In, a simultaneous open house at 36 Adult Education Centers, will be held from 5-7 p.m. today to encourage students and graduates of Adult Education programs to share their stories.

Commentary on 11/08/2017