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Adult Basic Education

Human capital drives the engine of the knowledge-based economy in the United States. Six out of every 10 jobs now require at least some postsecondary education and training.1 While there is no guarantee that a postsecondary degree will lead to a high-paying job, a person without some form of postsecondary education and training is unlikely to secure employment capable of supporting a family.

As economist Neeta Fogg points out, it is between the ages of 16 and 24 that people "accumulate human capital in the form of educational attainment or work experience in the labor market." Young people who are shut out of postsecondary education can face tremendous barriers to employment and success later in their lives.2 Because of changing workforce demands, nearly 40% of all college students today are over 25 years old, and 20% of the adult population is directly involved in some kind of work-related learning.3 These numbers are expected to grow as more adult learners seek new skills and training beyond high school. As Anthony Carnevale and Donna Desrochers note, postsecondary education is the arbiter of economic opportunity in the United States. In order for the states and the nation as a whole to maintain a competitive economic edge, the workforce must have education and training beyond high school.

A state's economy is related to the growth or decline of its working-age and retirement-age populations, and especially to the availability of skilled and knowledgeable workers. Recent projections by the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that in the next 25 years, the retirement-age population will grow dramatically in every state while, in most states, the growth of the working-age population will remain flat or decline.4 It is estimated that shortages of workers with postsecondary-level skills could grow to 14 million by 2020.5 For states faced with the problem of a shrinking workforce and tax base, the creation of new jobs and industries coupled with the development and retention of college graduates is an increasingly important policy issue.

For more information about employment as it relates to postsecondary education, please consult the National Information Center for Higher Education Policymaking and Analysis and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

1 Anthony Carnevale and Donna Desrochers, Standards for What?: The Economic Roots of K-16 Reform (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 2003).

2 Neeta Fogg, quoted in Bob Herbert, "Locked Out at a Young Age," New York Times, October 20, 2003, sec. A, p. 19.

3 The Lumina Foundation, Adult Learners, [available online] (Indianapolis: The Lumina Foundation for Education, 2003) available from the Lumina Foundation:; Internet and Paul E. Lingenfelter and Richard A. Voorhees, Adult Learners and State Policy (Denver, CO: State Higher Education Executive Officers, 2003).

4 U.S. Census Bureau, Summary File 1, Population Projections, 2000.

5 Carnevale and Desrochers.


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