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Facts | Talking Points | Fact Sheets

American Competitiveness

Only two percent of the annual workforce comes from public schools. In order to keep our nation competitive, we must focus on educating today’s workforce. Show legislators how adult education and literacy helps our nation keep its competitive edge.


Adult Education Promotes Economic Opportunity, Creates Stable Families and Makes America More Competitive


  • In order to reach international competitiveness by 2025, the U.S. and 32 states can’t close the gap with even best performance with traditional college students. They must rely on the re-entry pipeline – getting older adults back into the education system and on track to attaining college degress (Kelly, 2007).

  • By 2025 and with no changes, the US will fall short 22.5 million college degrees needed to match leading nations in college degree attainment. Even if immigration rates of college degree holders is sustained, the US will still fall short 15.5 million adults with college degrees. (State Higher Education Executive Officers)

  • In order to match leading nations in the percentage of adults with college degrees, the U.S. must enable fifteen percent of the 22.7 million adults (aged 25-44) who have completed high school, but not attended college to complete a degree. (State Higher Education Executive Officers)

  • Put another way, over the next several years, we must enable 3.4 million adults ages 25-44 (who have never gone to college) to earn a college degree. We cannot match leading nations in college degree attainment without tapping the existing adult population. (State Higher Education Executive Officers)

  • 67% of the service industry’s jobs in 1983 required a high school diploma or less; this will shrink to NO jobs for high school dropouts in 2018 (Help Wanted, see Figure 4.17, pg. 86) .

  • One in seven adults cannot read a job application. (National Assessment of Adult Literacy)

  • In November 2013, 10.8% of those without a HS diploma were unemployed compared to 7.3% of high school graduates; 6.4% of those with some college; 3.4% with a four-year degree or more. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • Over one million adults who lost jobs in 2008 are low skilled. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • An estimated 80-90 million adults—nearly half the workforce—lack the basic education and skills to qualify for the jobs that are being created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We cannot bridge that gap unless we invest in our nation’s adult basic education and literacy programs in tandem with job training and workforce development programs.

  • At best, only 2% of the workforce need is met by high school graduates. We cannot afford to wait 50 years for education reform to reconstitute the workforce. The vast majority of workers are currently in the workforce now and many have skills gaps. We need to educate today's adults to adapt to the changing economy, to be able to work with current and emerging technologies, and to find lasting jobs with sustainable wages. You can’t compete if you don’t have a skilled workforce.
  • Current and future jobs require educated adults with flexible skills that result by earning a high school diploma or GED credential plus some college. Some researchers project that within the next decade the US will be 12 million short of this level of worker.

  • Nearly 75% of jobs in occupations that are projected to experience above average employment growth through 2016 and had above average wages in 2006 typically require some level of postsecondary education. (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  Currently, 65 percent of adults have no associate or higher degree (U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 American Community Survey).
  • An investment in education is an investment in the country. Studies have shown the direct and indirect benefits of increases in education account for 2/3 of the increase in U.S. economic growth.

Talking Points

  • During an economic downturn, the demand grows for adult education and literacy services but lack of funding prevents adults from accessing these services. Adult education is paramount for workers to be able to get jobs, advance in their careers, and stay competitive. Workers, both employed and unemployed, must have access to basic education and training opportunities throughout the span of their work life.
  • To keep our economy strong, we must meet the needs of today’s workforce at the same time we are preparing tomorrow’s workers in the K-12 system.

  • The success of job training, welfare reform, and an array of other family and social initiatives depends on adults who can read and interpret written material, compute mathematics, and communicate in the English language.
  • There is no other system built to meet the many varying needs of adult education students and the public policy priorities that are served when their needs are met, for example: a more highly trained and competitive workforce; intergenerational literacy and increased success of education reform efforts; increased voting and other forms of civic participation, decreased recidivism and more successful preventive health.

  • The success of any public initiative (e.g., job training, elementary and secondary education, public health, welfare) depends on educated adults who can read, interpret, and apply the information and resources provided. The return on investment is significant in more jobs and tax revenue, children’s success in school, better health and lower public health expenditure, less dependency on social services, and fewer jobs shipped offshore.
  • Commitment to adequate federal education funding has been declining rapidly in recent years. Lack of consistent funding from the federal government and the constant fight to save education programs put on the chopping block on a year- to- year basis creates difficult and inefficient budgeting decisions at the local level.

Shift Happens Video
Shift Happens is an online video that illustrates the exponential changes happening with technology, the skills needed for tomorrow’s workforce, and challenges in preparing learners in order to keep America competitive. Shift Happens prompts us to consider the changes that should be made to current education legislation. Video developed by Karl Fisch with Scott McLead. 8 minutes.

Fact Sheets

The College Degree Gap: One Million More Degrees Annually 2009-2025
The State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) recently released data to show that transitioning adults from high school completion or some college courses to postsecondary degree completion is critical to the U.S. reclaiming its lead among industrialized countries in college degrees earned. Use these facts to advocate for funding needed to transition today’s adults to postsecondary education.

Labor Day 2010: Few Jobs for Low-Skilled Workers
Evelyn Ganzglass, Center for Law and Social Policy, writes a compelling argument for why long term employment is particularly pronounced. She offers solutions about how investments in career pathways that link adult literacy and basic skills to postsecondary education and training programs for low-income workers will help get our economy back on track. This article contains useful talking points in advocating for adult education and literacy.

The Jobs Bill: Investing in the Adult Workforce
The National Council of State Directors of Adult Education (NCSDAE) proposes four specific actions to put thousands of hard working Americans back to work through education and training:

  1. Short-term Intensive Training
  2. Workplace Education and Employment: on the Job Education and Training
  3. Grants for GED® and Transitions to Advanced Training
  4. Tax Credits for Employee Education and Training

See this four-page fact sheet for details.

The American Competitiveness Initiative: How can we compete when 93 million adults have skills below the high school level?
The American Competitiveness Initiative is a white paper from the National Council of State Directors of Adult Education on how to keep America competitive through adult education and literacy. The paper contains important facts on adult education and literacy as well as NCSDAE’s legislative priorities for Congress

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