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Research to Practice: Profiles of Client Characteristics

National Evaluation of Adult Education Programs
A Summary of the Second Interim Report

In 1990 the U.S. Department of Education commissioned a large scale national evaluation of federally funded adult education programs. The study was based on data from a nationally representative sample of 139 local programs. Data were collected "on a sample of 21,059 clients who first enrolled in adult education between April 1991 and April 1992, and on the extent and type of instructional services all those clients received for up to 18 months from their time of entry" (p. 2).

Although this longitudinal study is still in progress, some clear trends are evident. Here are some significant preliminary findings on the characteristics of clients in adult education programs.


Number of learners served

Programs serve about 4% of the estimated target population (1.8 million new clients each year out of a target population of 46.2 million).

Student attendance and persistence

Types of learners served


"Clients tend to be placed at levels lower than their test scores indicate..." (p. ii). For example, only 38% of ABE students were appropriately placed in Level I (Grade-Equiva-lent of 6.0 or below).

Economic indicators

                        ABE          ESL

Employed                40%         46%
Not in work force       33%         38%
Unemployed              27%         18%
Fourteen percent of ESL students receive public assistance or welfare; the rate for ABE students is 36%.

Prior education
"The typical ABE student dropped out of high school after completing 10 years of education" (p.26). New ESL students generally enter the federal adult education system with higher educational attainment than new ABE students. For example, 53% of ESL students are high school graduates; only 11% of ABE students have graduated from high school.

Motivation for enrollment
In a choice of reason for enrolling, employability ranked behind literacy, self-concept, and basic skills. However, 66% of new clients had no dominant motive for enrolling in adult education. They rated "more than half of the potential reasons for their taking instruction as very important." It appears that they have "multiple motives for seeking adult education services." Another possible explanation may be that "intake forms administered at the start of a client's adult education experience are not the best way of discovering motives for participation" (p. 34).


Several issues are raised by this overview of the adult education client.

Individual programs may want to use the information in this study to assist them in writing grants. For example, local data and national data can be compared to document local strengths or to argue need for a particular type of project. Moreover, programs can use this information to evaluate their own operations. The Ohio Literacy Resource Center can assist you in interpreting this material and its implications for your program.

The complete report, "National Evaluation of Adult Education Programs, Second Interim Report, Profiles of Client Characteristics" was prepared and can be ordered by sending $9.50 to the Development Associates, Inc., 1730 N. Lind Street, Arlington, VA 22209. Attn: Adult Education Orders.

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