Adult Education News

Reengaging Adult Learners

Recently we noticed an eye-catching work of art on a social media site with the words “you were created for such a time as this”. The KET Adult Ed team believes adult education professionals were created for such a time as this – And, what a time it is!

The COVID-19 pandemic changed education forever. As the world resets to a new post-COVID normal the growth in inflation makes recovery difficult, especially for those who may have faced job loss, trauma, loss of family members or new experiences with childcare and education. The current environment may contribute to an alarming, growing statistic that shows the percentage of adults enrolling in education has been shrinking over the last decade. According to a study by, adults ages 25-29 enrolling in undergraduate education programs decreased by 4.3% in 2019 and another 5% by 2020. Similarly, enrollment for adults over 30 also dropped. Anecdotal evidence shows these trends are likely reflected in adults enrolling in adult education programs as many adult education providers say enrollment rates are down for their programs.

Are there best practices to address concerns of adult education programs and learners that may need or want to return to school?

A key component to reaching potential adult learners is to know who they are and what they may need. The GED Testing Service® says the average age of their test-takers is 26 and on average, test-takers study three months before taking the test. In addition, most high school dropouts fall into a few general categories, including low socioeconomic status, special education needs and family/personal medical/behavioral health needs. So, potential adult learners have likely been out of school for nearly a decade, likely have had enough life experiences to realize the value of education and come into programs with more than academic needs.

Even though focused on undergraduate secondary adult enrollment, which has also shrunk over the last decade, a recent study that looked at two small colleges which have been able to increase adult enrollment suggests engaging quickly when learners show any interest is very important. In fact, one college program runs extensive advertising on social media sites, YouTube, and on television to attract young adults but the key to the success of this strategy they say is fast response to any potential student’s inquiry. The marketing director at Southern New Hampshire University says representatives respond to 98% of calls within three minutes. The college website loads content for users within three seconds.

Several municipalities in the U.S. have opened reengagement centers associated with high schools to reengage out of school youth before too much time passes. The idea is to get recent stop-outs to come back and graduate with their classmates. This is done through a case management process to support the student by addressing barriers that caused them to leave school. This “knowing” of the student is a key component to reengagement center success.

Another key component to attracting adult students is flexibility and online learning. With most adult learners having life responsibilities like jobs and families it is imperative that coursework be available online and on demand.

What can adult education professionals take away from these findings?

Many practices and programs are available for increasing enrollment in secondary education or reengaging recent high school dropouts. There seems to a lack of resources for adult education programs targeting learners that have been out of high school for a decade or so. In that vein, it may be time for adult education programs to work with high schools in their areas, especially at back-to-school time! School counselors know what students do not return to school from one school year to the next. While they refer these students to reengagement programs, credit recovery or technical/career schools, statistics show that only one in four return to school in those capacities. Does your adult education program work seamlessly with high schools to contact non-returning students? If not, why not try to establish a means of doing so as the school year gets underway.

Does your adult learning program offer online, on-demand programs for high school equivalency credential prep or workplace training? KET Adult Education is proud to offer FastForward and Workplace Essential Skills which are proven to help adults prepare for hse exams and learn new concepts to apply in the workplace. You can sign up for a free two-week trial to see content in both.

Because adult learners often have family and job responsibilities but potentially limited resources, it is a good idea for adult learning programs to connect learners to resources. Find out where assistance with back-to-school supplies, housing, childcare, utilities, etc. is available so you can refer learners in need. Build relationships with these community partners so there is an exchange of referral patterns between your program and theirs. Try participating in “back to school” events.

To successfully reengage adults who dropped out of high school and are of average GED test age (26), adult education programs must learn to meaningfully connect with potential learners. This can be done through traditional marketing and outreach means as well as through partnerships with high-schools, reengagement centers, technical/career programs, community colleges, community resource partnerships, learner to learner endorsement and other creative means.

Once potential learners show interest, establish connection as soon as possible. Assess learner needs and get to know them and their reasons for leaving school and their aspirations by returning. This will allow adult education professionals to provide learners with flexible courses, resources and support to remove barriers to success.

Adult education professionals are important in “times such as this”. You make a difference in every adult learner’s life. Let us know how we can support you. KET Adult Ed offers every adult education professional access to social media content for outreach and some learning materials via PBS Learning Media absolutely FREE. Connect with us to find out more.