Jacobs: Michigan must boost funding for adult education

Gilda Z. Jacobs

There’s been a lot of focus on developing Michigan’s workforce to better adapt to and shape a strong economy. But a key component is missing in these efforts and it’s one that threatens to derail the entire lot: adequate funding for adult education.

Michigan is not reaching near enough of working age adults who lack basic skills to be part of the state’s workforce development push. “Willing to Work and Ready to Learn: More Adult Education Would Strengthen Michigan’s Economy,” released by the Michigan League for Public Policy in March, shows that too few adults are getting the basic skills education needed to succeed in occupational training and get out of low-paying, dead-end jobs and into careers that can support their families.

In short, we are ignoring a huge pool of potential talent and skills that could be developed to benefit Michigan and our economy.

According to the report:

■ State funding for adult education dropped from $185 million in 1996 to $22 million today.

■ Enrollment in adult education programs has fallen by nearly half since 2001.

■ More than 221,500 Michigan adults ages 25-44 lack a high school diploma or GED, but fewer than 7 percent are enrolled in adult education.

■ More than 225,000 Michigan adults are not proficient in English, but fewer than 5 percent enroll in ESL adult education programs.

■ 60 percent of Michigan community college students need to take remedial education classes because they have not mastered skills needed for postsecondary education.

Workers without postsecondary skills and credentials will have an increasingly difficult time finding family-supporting employment. Almost 30 percent of Michigan adults over age 25 who do not have a high school diploma or GED live in poverty, compared to 4 percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 12 percent with some college or an associate degree, and 15 percent for a high school graduate.

Michigan’s push to move more low-skilled workers into postsecondary credential programs will create greater demand for adult education. With $10 million in additional funding, Michigan could educate 8,000 more adults; with $30 million more, Michigan could educate an extra 40,000.

A Senate subcommittee in March added $7 million to Gov. Rick Snyder’s recommended $22 million for adult education in the coming fiscal year. The day prior, a House appropriations subcommittee eliminated all adult education funding.

A few years ago, the Legislature at Snyder’s urging, approved the biggest preschool expansion in the nation after advocates pointed out that Michigan’s educational reforms would fail without addressing the 30,000 4-year-olds who qualified for federal- or state-funded preschool but were left behind due to lack of funding.

This is the same issue: Too many people are being forgotten. And without action, Michigan’s workforce development efforts will fail. Our legislators need to recognize the urgency for adequate funding and make sure it’s in the final budget.

Gilda Z. Jacobs is president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy.