Press Release: Adult Education x Dropouts = Lose-Lose

Problems that have been plaguing urban secondary schools may be shifting to adult education venues, according to a new study conducted by The Graduate Center, City University of New York, and commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education. Researchers from the Center for Advanced Study of Education (CASE) at The Graduate Center examined five urban adult education programs and discovered a rise in enrollment among 16-20 year-old high school dropouts along with increases in the difficulties those students brought. Overall, the results seem to indicate a lose-lose situation, with teenagers not getting the support services they need and adults being disrupted in their learning by needy teenagers.

An exploratory case study, the report was commissioned to examine a perceived trend in the increasing effect of high school dropouts on adult education and to see if that perception held up and warranted further concern. The results serve as an alert to policymakers that this trend must be more comprehensively identified, evaluated, and remedied.

The research focused on five adult education programs run by Local Education Agencies (LEAs), which were promised anonymity in return for their participation. The total current enrollment of 16 to 20 year-olds at the sites was estimated at 35,656, just short of 50% of the total enrollment of 71,981. Although individual sites had different periods and methods of tracking the numbers, they collectively reported a significant increase in 16 to 18 years olds, along with a rise in the percentage those high school age students represented of their total student population. In all cases, the students were primarily black and Hispanic, many scored low on standardized reading and mathematics tests, and most had either dropped out of or had been expelled from high school.

Interviews with teachers, administrators, and students revealed that many in the 16-20 year-old cohort were hard-working, motivated students. However, when compared with adult education students as a whole, the 16-20 year old students were perceived to be less motivated, more involved in drugs, more involved in gangs and fighting, more likely to exhibit behavior problems, more likely to manifest symptoms of learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder, and more often mandated to attend by courts and drug rehabilitation programs.

The net result of the increase enrollment of 16-20 year old students was a direct negative impact on the adult education programs, along with a need for greater and different resources to deal with what is generally characterized as a dropout population. Although it was not the intention to establish a causal link, the study did discuss a combination of factors contributing to the rise in teenage enrollment in adult education programs, including: a more flexible learning environment; increasingly more difficult secondary school graduation standards; students' behavioral difficulties in high school; an increase in referrals by the courts and drug rehabilitation agencies for GED instruction; high school student and counselor misperceptions about the nature of the GED; and more aggressive adult education marketing to a younger group because of reduced welfare-related adult enrollments.

In all, research areas the study investigated included:

  • Relevant Federal, State, and Local Policies
  • Changes in Adult Education Enrollment
  • Qualitative and Quantitative Student Characteristics
  • Reasons for Increased 16-20 Year-Old Enrollment in Adult Education
  • Program Characteristics
  • Program Effectiveness and Strategies
Principal Investigators included: Bert Flugman, Ph.D., Director, Center for Advanced Study in Education, Graduate Center of the City University of New York; Dolores Perin, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Teachers College, Columbia University; and Seymour Spiegel, M.Ed., Project Director, Center for Advanced Study in Education, Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The study was funded by The Office of Vocational and Adult Education of the U.S. Department of Education.

The complete study, including recommendations, at

The Center for Advanced Study in Education (CASE) conducts basic and applied research: 1) to broaden the knowledge and understanding of current urban educational policies and trends, 2) to improve the quality of educational practice in urban school districts, and 3) to provide research findings upon which local, state, and federal agencies can fashion educational and fiscal policy.

CASE also serves as a forum for the deliberation and analysis of edu­cational policy issues, promotes interdisciplinary initiatives in seeking solu­tions to educational problems, and functions as a clearinghouse for educa­tional research strategies and for the dissemination of research findings.

The Graduate Center is the doctorate-granting institution of The City University of New York. The only consortium of its kind in the nation, The Graduate Center draws its faculty of more than 1,600 members mainly from the CUNY senior colleges and cultural and scientific institutions throughout New York City.

Established in 1961, The Graduate Center has grown to an enrollment of about 3,900 students in 30 doctoral programs and six master's degree programs in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. The Graduate Center also houses 28 research centers and institutes, administers the CUNY Baccalaureate Program, and offers a wide range of continuing education and cultural programs of interest to the general public. According to the most recent National Research Council report, more than a third of The Graduate Center's rated Ph.D. programs rank among the nation's top 20 at public and private institutions.

Submitted on: JAN 1, 2004

Category: Center for Advanced Study in Education (CASE) | Press Room | Research Studies