K-12 Adult Schools Provide the Most ESL

Dec 20th, 2014 | By | Category: Adult, Levels
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A Look at the California Legislative Analyst’s Office Report
on Adult Education

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Kristen Pursley


—As California’s adult schools and community colleges go through the AB86 Regional Consortia planning process, they have to learn a lot about each other fast. A report issued by the state Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) in December 2012 can be a useful tool in understanding how adult schools and community colleges function. The report, “Restructuring California’s Adult Education System,” took an in-depth look at both adult schools and community colleges, evaluating them as a single system serving California’s adults. Because the report was a precursor to the AB86 planning process, and the AB86 legislation is based in part on its recommendations, it is a helpful resource for those engaged in the consortium planning process. The entire report can be accessed here: http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2012/edu/adult-education/restructuring-adult-education-120412.pdf

Three Adult Education Programs:
Community College Credit, Community College Noncredit, and Adult Schools

Specifically, the LAO evaluated community college credit and noncredit programs and adult school mandated programs. Adult school mandated programs are those that are eligible for state funding: parenting, elementary and secondary basic skills, English as a Second Language, classes for immigrants in citizenship, English, and workforce skills, programs for adults with disabilities, career technical education, programs for older adults, programs for apprentices, home economics, and health and safety education. Four of these programs—parent education, older adults, home economics, and health and safety—are not part of the AB86 consortium planning process, and so they may lose their funding in 2015. But the LAO report was written before the AB86 became law, so all mandated programs are included in the report.

Those of us who work in adult schools have had to learn a lot about community college credit and noncredit programs during the consortium process, just as the community colleges have had to learn a lot about us. Community college credit programs are fairly easy to understand; they are college. In the credit program, students earn units that count toward the two-year AA degree and are transferable to a four-year college.

Community college noncredit programs are more like adult school mandated programs. They have open enrollment, which allows students to begin and leave class at any time during the year. There are no grades, and students do not earn credits. The focus is on learning rather than achieving credentials, and students may repeat classes as needed.

Page 11 of the LAO report is particularly interesting, as it features several charts that explain how the work of educating California’s adults is shared between community college credit and noncredit programs and adult schools.

Breakdown on Total Adult Education Instruction in California:
Community College Credit 54%, Adult Schools 34%, Community College Noncredit 14%

A pie chart on page 11 of the report looks at the percentages for each of the three programs for all areas of instruction combined, based on 2009-2010 figures. The chart shows that community college credit programs provide the most adult education services in California, at 52%. Adult schools come in second, at 34%, while community college noncredit programs are comparatively small, at 14%.

As the LAO report explains, community college noncredit programs provide a relatively small percentage of the total adult education in California because only a few community colleges have large noncredit programs. In fact, the majority of noncredit instruction is provided by a few large programs:

Only a handful of (community) colleges offer a robust selection of noncredit adult education. The largest CC noncredit providers are the Rancho Santiago (Orange County), San Francisco, San Diego, North Orange, Mount San Antonio (Los Angeles County) and Los Angeles districts. Together, these six districts accounted for two-thirds of noncredit FTE students in 2011-2012, with the top ten largest district providers accounting for about 85 percent of CCC noncredit instruction.—Restructuring California’s Adult Education System (pp. 11-12)

In some regions, such as San Francisco and San Diego, the community college provides all the adult education in the region through large credit and noncredit programs. In these areas, the community college noncredit program replaces the adult school.

Because 85% of noncredit instruction is provided by 10 districts, the size of the noncredit program within your consortium area may vary greatly depending on your region. While noncredit programs provide only 14% of adult education instruction statewide, you may be engaged in the planning process with a large noncredit program that provides a great deal of the instruction in your region. Or you may be in a consortium where there is no noncredit program at all, as not all community colleges have noncredit programs.

Like adult school programs, community college noncredit programs suffered significant cuts during the budget crisis of 2008. It would be interesting to know if noncredit programs were much more extensive before the crisis hit.

Breakdown by Instructional Area: Majority of Adult Education Is Concentrated
in Vocational Education, ESL, and Elementary and Secondary Education Programs

Another instructive chart on page 11 of the LAO report shows how the work of community college credit, community college noncredit, and adult school programs breaks down by instructional area. This chart shows that the vast majority of adult education is concentrated in three instructional areas: vocational education, English as a second language, and elementary and secondary education. These three areas, serving about 140,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students each (about 420,000 for the three programs combined) in 2009-2010 are much larger than the fourth-place program, health and safety, which served about 60,000 FTE students, almost all of them in community college credit programs.

Community College Credit Programs Provide the Most Vocational Instruction

The chart shows that the vast majority of vocational education takes place in community college credit programs, which served about 110,000 FTE students in 2009-2010. Adult schools trail community college credit programs in vocational education substantially, at about 20,000 FTE for the 2009-2010 year. Community college noncredit vocational education programs were even smaller than adult school programs, at about 10,000 FTE.

Adult Schools Provide Most ESL Instruction

The proportions are reversed for ESL, the next-largest program, serving a little more than 140,000 FTE students per year. Adult school ESL programs account for 85,000 FTE students, more than community college credit and noncredit programs combined. Community college credit provides the next-largest program, at 35,000 FTE, and noncredit ESL accounts for about 20,000 FTE.

Community College Credit Programs Provide Somewhat More
Adult Elementary and Secondary Education Than Adult Schools

In the area of elementary and secondary Education for adults, community college credit programs and adult school programs are more evenly split, with adult schools providing elementary and secondary education to about 60,000 FTE students in 2009-2010 while community college credit programs provided instruction to about 85,000 FTE students and community college noncredit programs served about 10,000 FTE students.

Adult School Figures in the LAO Report Were Probably Underreported

The LAO report also notes that the totals for adult schools were underreported in all areas, as not all adult schools were able to report attendance figures.


The fact that adult schools provide a vast majority of the adult ESL instruction in California, more than twice as much as the next-largest program, community college credit, should be of interest to anyone in the state involved in the ESL profession. Indeed, this circumstance should be of interest to anyone concerned with the welfare of the state’s large immigrant population. The fact that adult schools provide so much of the ESL instruction in the state indicates that they have achieved significant success in this area; the consortium-planning process will better serve the adult English learner population of California if the voices of adult school ESL teachers and students are heard. Furthermore, California’s adult English learners would be best served by measures such as dedicated funding for adult schools, which would assure that adult schools maintain their identity and character within the consortia.

How are things going in your consortium? It will be very different depending on your region. Are you collaborating with a large noncredit program, or are you participating in planning with a credit ESL program only? Every consortium is different; it would be interesting if we could all compare notes.

Kristen Pursley is the Adult Level chair.

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