It’s Time to Prioritize Investment and Support for Adult Education, Literacy and ESLLori Sundberg | President, Carl Sandburg College
The future of our great country depends on an educated populace. As a nation, we must come to grips with the reality that we are no greater than our least educated. However, we tend to dismiss the strong link between education and a more robust and more vibrant economy. This is nowhere more evident than in our funding, or lack thereof, of adult education, literacy or English as a Second Language (ESL). The United States was once the most educated in the world, but we’ve fallen behind other countries in recent years. We must ask ourselves, “Is there any way our country can become once again the best educated if we don’t fund and support these very basic programs that propel people into higher education and into careers?”
Funding of adult education, literacy, or ESL is essential for Illinois—the state where I reside—as well as for the country. Without the ability to read, to have the basic educational foundation of a high school diploma or the ability to communicate in the common language of this country, people simply cannot find jobs. Without those basic skills, navigating modern life is next to impossible. At yet, the funding priority on these educational areas remains dismal.
How does someone begin to live a functional life today without the ability to speak English? There is much discussion in the media about the rise and use of Spanish, in particular, but what are the other options for those who cannot speak English? Without programs to help immigrants to learn our language, these folks are left with no options but to use the only language they know. Again: they have no choice. And can these people find work? The answer is that it’s tough at best. Communication between and among workers and supervisors becomes hit or miss, and in today’s times of increased technology, accurate communication is the basis of a good working relationship.
Illinois is facing a financial crisis and adult education and literacy funding has been suspended by the state. There is no population more vulnerable than those who cannot read or write or who do have not a high school education. Even the most menial of jobs, which pay very little, still require the employee to be able to read or write. For many of these people the traditional K-12 system has already failed them. Certainly as a country we should not allow that failure to stand. The United States of America is better than that. Our country has always risen to the challenges placed before it and today, we have challenges regarding our funding of education. We are facing similar challenges in the funding of higher education as well. We simply cannot lead the world in terms of educational attainments if we don’t bring up those who are still struggling with a primary and/or a secondary education.
With a pipeline already in place, community colleges are uniquely suited to meet the needs of these students as they transition on from their programs, and the community colleges stand ready to fulfill their role in the educational process. At Carl Sandburg College, where I have the privilege of serving as president, many of our adult education students transition right into the college programs. We also have bridge programs to help assist in that transition. Many of these students, who only months or years earlier could only have dreamed for a college degree, find themselves enrolled in college programs and being successful. They know that education is their best ticket out of poverty.
Economically, our country needs these people educated and able to enter the workforce. In Illinois, in particular, we have jobs available. However, we don’t have people with the necessary skills to fill them. So, a huge disconnect exists between those people who need jobs and the jobs that are going unfilled. How much more vibrant and economically attuned would Illinois be if we could match up those people needing jobs with the necessary education and training for the jobs that are waiting to be filled? We cannot accomplish this by cutting or suspending the funding for adult education, literacy and ESL programs.
The question remains: Can we become the world leader again in being the best educated if we do not fund and support programs such as adult education, literacy and ESL? The answer to this question is no.
A well-educated population is the answer to a fragile economy that is begging to grow but can’t find the employees it needs to expand. There has never been a better time to fund and support education either at the K-12 level, adult education, literacy, ESL level or the postsecondary level. Our economy is depending on us to get this right. In order to build a stronger and better educated country, funding for education cannot be seen as a cost. It must be seen as what it is: an investment in our long-term success.
It’s been said that investing in education is investing in our future. I have to say that there have been no wiser words spoken.