Indiana’s Adult Education program is one of the tops in the country and last year enrolled close to 25,000 Hoosiers seeking to earn
a high school equivalency or industry certification.
The number is quite impressive when considering that’s more students than are currently enrolled at Ball State University in Muncie.
Nationally, roughly 36 million adults are challenged with low literacy skills. In Indiana, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) administers the state’s Adult Education program, which helps Hoosiers earn a high school equivalency (HSE).
Receiving an HSE often is a life-changing experience for most participants in the program.
“The challenges I faced throughout my life brought me to where I am today. My successes and overcoming life’s challenges have boosted my confidence and given me a great opportunity in life,” said Jamie Eller of Fort Wayne, who earned a high school equivalency and a patient access certification.
Indiana’s Adult Education program ranked No. 1 in the nation last year in terms of the amount of students who achieved a measurable skill gain. Two-thirds of Hoosier students realized a two-grade level or more improvement in academic skills.
The program also helps Hoosiers obtain post-secondary certifications. In fact, about 2,700 industry-recognized certifications for “in-demand jobs” were issued in Indiana in 2018.
And, Indiana’s Adult Education program is a relative bargain with an average cost-per-enrollment of under $1,000.
More than 30 entities provide adult education programs at more than 250 locations across Indiana. Many of the programs are administered through public school corporations, higher education institutions such as Marian and Vincennes universities, and not-for-profits such as Indy Reads.
Even so, nearly half a million working-age Hoosiers lack a high school diploma or equivalency. The cost to taxpayers is staggering—about $500,000 per high school dropout. The challenge is to skill up that population without a high school credential, by putting them on a path toward a high school equivalency and industry certification.
Despite the recent emphasis on adult education, programs have been offered in Indiana since the 1940s. They received a lift in 1964, when federal and state funding became available to help high-school dropouts earn their General Equivalency Diploma. In 2014, Indiana switched from the traditional GED to the High School Equivalency, or HSE.
The largest segment of Indiana’s population participating in high school equivalency classes is the 25-to-44 age group, said Jerry Haffner, DWD’s Assistant Director of Adult Education Policy & Programs.
“Those folks have been out of school and have worked one or multiple jobs,” he said. “They’re coming back because they really need a better job, and a better opportunity.”
Though high school equivalency and certification classes are a big part of Indiana’s Adult Education program, an increasing number of adult education participants (20 percent) are wanting to learn the English language.
Most of that population is already working, and the employer is seeking DWD’s assistance to improve communication with their workforce, said Marilyn Pitzulo, Indiana’s Director of Adult Education.
“We’re seeing this more and more,” she said. “They have a population of, for example, Burmese, and they want us to come and set up a class on site at their location and help teach their employees English.”
Offering adult education classes at the actual workplace is becoming more common, at a time when the state’s low unemployment rate of 3.4 percent is making it harder for employers to find good workers and retain them. So employers are partnering or supporting the courses, to incentivize employees to get their high school equivalency by making it more convenient.
Overall, those with a high school credential can increase their earnings 100 percent over a lifetime compared with those without one.