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Rural Adult Enrollment Follows Money, Program Size

Two findings from a recently released report on adult learners have implications for rural schools and communities. The study, "A Smart Move in Tough Times," by the Southern Regional Education Board, showed some rural states in that region doing far better than others at reaching and re-enrolling adults who left school without finishing basic and secondary education.

It also showed that the rural states doing the best have made significant funding commitments to adult learning programs and have integrated them into education institutions and organizations at the local level.

(Mary Ann Zehr summarized the report's interesting findings about English-language learners earlier on Edweek's Learning the Language blog.)

Overall, the SREB report, which covers 16 states, showed that between 2005 and 2008 enrollment in adult basic education programs (which teach content for grades 1-8) decreased slightly, and adult secondary education (which covers the content of grades 9-12) decreased 6 percent.

The report urged states to respond by placing more emphasis on adult learning programs, particularly as recovery from the recession continues.

"If we are not able to bring back into the pipeline people who have dropped out of it, these people will be left out of progress and left behind," SREB Vice President Joan Lord told reporters during a Webinar about the study and adult learning.

Three states with large numbers of rural students and rural schools stood out in the report: Alabama, Kentucky and North Carolina were the only three SREB states with enrollment gains in all types of adult-learning programs the study examined.

Four other heavily rural states had enrollment declines in all three programs: Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas.

SREB examined the way programs are organized in each state. It also analyzed and compared funding levels. The rural states that boosted enrollment also boosted the emphasis on adult learning and devoted the highest levels of state spending to adult learners. The ones posting the declines spent the least, according to the report.

"There really is some connection between the size of the program, the money they spend and the intentionality of the outcomes," said Lord.

Among the report's recommendations: That each state set a specific goal for adult learning and improve coordination and governance among agencies that provide education services to adults.

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