WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Commentary: Changing Lives for the Better through Adult Education

Oct 23, 2019

Without a high school diploma, opportunities in life are limited. Finding a job can be more challenging; unemployment rates are much higher; and pay above minimum wage is unlikely. Generally, minimum wage isn't even enough to pay monthly bills and provide for a family. So, to make ends meet, individuals are often forced to work two jobs, often part-time, and without medical benefits.

Among those between the ages of 18-24, high school dropouts are more than twice as likely as college graduates to live in poverty according to the Department of Education. Those without a diploma experienced a poverty rate of 31 percent while those with at least a bachelor’s degree had a poverty rate of 14 percent. Having only enough money to pay rent, utility bills, and put gas in a car leaves very little leftover for food.

The average high school dropout can expect to earn an average income of around $20,000 according to the U. S. Census Bureau. That’s a full $10,000 less than the typical high school graduate and $36,000 less than someone with a bachelor’s degree.

Opportunities in the United States are also limited if for those not proficient in the English language. Most employers require from their employees a high level of speaking, reading, and often writing in English. Not being proficient in English language skills greatly limits the jobs that can be obtained. Someone without a high school diploma or its equivalent may be forced to work the type of jobs that most would not choose: difficult, physically demanding work, with massive amounts of overtime each week, for extended periods of time.

English as a Second Language learners come to the United States for various reasons, primarily for a better life, not only for themselves but for their children, and future generations to come. Many are escaping dictatorships, economic chaos, oppression, and poverty.

My students are courageous and I have a great deal of respect for them. As a teacher, I’ve learned over the years that we are much more alike than we are different.

Adult education programs, like the one at Spoon River College, provide “a path from low-income jobs and limited opportunities to the middle-class wages and family sustainability,” according to the Illinois Community College Board.

There is a critical need for Adult Education. Among the Spoon River College District’s adult population (16 years of age or older) of 56,368: 16% live in poverty, 11% do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent, 6% were classified ESL adults and felt that they did not speak English well and 18% receive some type of public assistance from the government.

Spoon River College Adult Education GED programs provide adults ages 16 years and older (must be turning 17 within semester enrolled) who have less than a high school education or equivalent with GED classes where they will study to pass the GED examination, a nationally recognized test for a certificate of high school equivalency and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes designed for adults, 16 years and older, whose native language is not English. The ESL program helps students improve their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. These skills are necessary for success in the workplace, and the community.

For more information about registering for GED classes contact Janet Young at 833-6017 and ESL classes, or becoming a volunteer tutor, contact Cyndi Johnston at 833-6038.

Cyndi Johnston is the ESL and Literacy Coordinator at the Spoon River College campus in Macomb.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio. 

Diverse opinions are welcomed and encouraged.