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Adult Student Persistence

Resources for Policymakers


Adults choose to enroll in adult education and literacy classes with goals that require lengthy time commitments. Due to the complexity of adult students’ lives, many factors can either support or prevent students from persisting in adult education and literacy programs until they reach their goals. NCSALL’s Adult Student Persistence Study explores the factors that contribute to and hinder student persistence while offering insights into how improved retention may be fostered.  

Suggested Readings

Persistence Among Adult Basic Education Students in Pre-GED Classes. John P. Comings, Andrea Parrella, and Lisa Soricone, NCSALL Report #12, December 1999.
Because pre-GED students usually enroll in programs with goals that require lengthy time commitments, researchers in the first phase of NCSALL's Adult Student Persistence Study investigate factors that promote learner retention by reviewing existing research on learner persistence and motivation, interviewing 150 adult students in New England , and considering practitioner reports on efforts to support learner persistence. In the study, persistence is defined as adults staying in programs for as long as possible, engaging in self-directed study when it is necessary to leave the programs, and returning to programs when possible. The study identifies four primary measures of support—management of positive and negative forces that help or hinder persistence, self-efficacy for reaching goals, establishment of goals by the student, and support for progress toward reaching a goal. The report provides useful information for practitioners who would like to learn more about how to support learner persistence and for policy makers concerned with structuring funding and accountability requirements to support persistence. The study also challenges researchers to develop reliable tools for measuring persistence and to identify program and instructional factors that support retention. This comprehensive report includes samples of questionnaires used with learners.  

“I've Come a Long Way”: Learner-identified Outcomes of Participation in Adult Literacy Programs. Mary Beth Bingman and Olga Ebert, NCSALL Report #13, February 2000.
The Assessment of Outcomes Study brings learners' perspectives to the outcomes of participation in adult literacy education. This study, using a life history methodology, engages in an in-depth analysis of the experiences of ten adult learners in Tennessee . Detailed accounts, using participants' quotations, of adult learners' life histories, experiences in adult education programs, and the effects of participation on their lives, support the analysis. While new literacy practices and a stronger sense of self are primary outcomes, learners' experiences are diverse, complex, and determined by individual life situations. This research identifies implications for instruction and assessment, and challenges many misconceptions about adult learners.

“Program Participation and Self-Directed Learning to Improve Basic Skills.” Stephen Reder and Clare Strawn, Focus on Basics, Volume 4, Issue D, April 2001.
Data from NCSALL's Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning indicate that self-study is prevalent among high school dropouts. The authors assert that informal, self-directed learning may be an important aspect of adult literacy development and that this is a component largely overlooked by researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. They argue that turnover in programs may be part of a broader process of skill development over time and that it is important to examine learner participation from a student rather than administrative perspective in order to gain a more accurate understanding of students' experiences.

“Literacy, Health, and Health Literacy: State Policy Considerations.” Marcia Drew Hohn, Focus on Basics , Volume 5, Issue C, February 2002.
This article provides an overview of five promising strategies for integrating health issues with literacy instruction. The author argues for the importance of this focus in ABE, calls for financial support and a long-term commitment to literacy and health education, and raises questions for further research into this important issue.

“Adult Learning and Literacy in the United Kingdom.” Mary Hamilton and Juliet Merrifield, The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, Volume 1, Chapter 7.
This comprehensive article describes adult literacy and learning systems in the United Kingdom (UK) and compares and contrasts aspects of this system to ABE in the United States (US). The authors explore issues of retention and the complex factors that cause learners to leave programs. They describe a portfolio system used by learners and funders in the UK to track intermediate credentials students attain as they work towards a GED and suggest that the US could benefit from a similar system that combines flexibility and individual choice with national standards and reporting guidelines.  

Questions to Consider

Specifically related to the articles:

Generally related to policy:

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL