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Adult Literacy and Postsecondary Education Students: Overlapping Populations and Learning Trajectories

Volume 1: Chapter Four

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In this chapter, Stephen Reder explores the overlap between adult literacy programs and community colleges by examining the literacy skills of postsecondary education students, the remedial / developmental programs that serve them, and the effectiveness of these programs and adult basic education in helping students succeed. As Reder notes, to obtain livable incomes, most individuals need to obtain both postsecondary credentials and relatively high levels of literacy proficiency. He thus presents a series of data describing the literacy proficiency of postsecondary students across a range of less than two-year, two-year, and four-year settings, with particular attention to GED recipients pursuing postsecondary education. Among Reder's findings, he shows that nearly one in four (22 percent) of the nation's college students seeking academic degrees lacks the literacy skills to meet the designated national benchmark for adult literacy. Reder provides evidence to show the importance of developmental education opportunities for students to raise their basic skill levels at the postsecondary level. He also discusses outcomes for postsecondary students across settings and notes the difficulty of adequately assessing the impact of remedial/developmental education on student outcomes.

Based on his analysis, Reder offers a series of recommendations for policy, practice and research. With respect to policy and practice, the author points to the need to support student learning paths in the transition from adult education into postsecondary education and to advance the goal of adult education from high school equivalency to college preparation. In addition, he recommends forging closer linkages between practitioners and professional organizations in adult education and developmental education at the postsecondary level, making postsecondary and adult education teachers and administrators more familiar with each other's programs, and sharing expertise on adult learning and literacy development across programs and settings. Reder raises several issues for research in this area, such as understanding the role of literacy proficiency and high school experience in entrance into and persistence in postsecondary education and lifelong learning activities. Further, he notes the need for more longitudinal research to monitor the skill gains produced by literacy education, as well as the development of literacy practices in and beyond postsecondary settings. Such research, combined with study of the interaction of literacy development and the gatekeeping or selective function of literacy skills, might provide the basis for strengthening developmental education opportunities in the transition from adult literacy to postsecondary education.

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Contact Information

The Annual Review was published in October 1999.
The ISBN is 0-787-94741-5
Price: $37

To order The Annual Review of Adult Learning and Literacy, click on to the Jossey-Bass Publishers web site
Or call Jossey-Bass Publishers toll free at (800) 956-7739.

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