To The Editor:

There are more than 10,000 people in the East Central College service area who didn’t graduate high school. They are three times more likely to be in poverty, four times more likely to be in poor health and eight times more likely to be incarcerated than the rest of the population.

Right now, there are 28 adult education programs across the state trying to fix the problem, including the one at East Central College. We are seeing results. This year, Missouri ranked second in the nation for academic gains through adult education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, individuals who participate in Adult Education and Literacy programs have higher future earnings as a result. Children whose parents are involved with them in family literacy activities score 10 points higher on standardized reading tests.  Adult Education programs are the best available weapons against intergenerational low literacy and poverty.

The last week of September served as National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week — meant to bring public awareness about the need for and value of adult education and family literacy. As director of the East Central College Adult Education and Literacy (AEL) Program, I know one week of awareness isn’t enough. The demand for more educated workers isn’t going away. By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require some level of postsecondary education. By next year, only 10 percent of jobs will be open to those who fail to complete high school and only 28 percent will be open to those with only a high school diploma. A person with a high school diploma or equivalent earns an average of $7,500 more per year in Missouri than a nongraduate. Investing in adult education is investing in economic growth and a growing middle class.

East Central College’s AEL program serves nearly 400 students each year, and we are always looking to grow. The classes are free, and they do not have to pay for textbooks. The average cost per year to provide classes in Missouri is less than $700 per student. It’s a worthwhile investment. More highly educated adults experience higher employment and home ownership rates, higher annual earnings, lower levels of incarceration and decreased dependence on social support programs.

Educating more adults in our service area isn’t just about improving individual lives. Helping more adults complete their high school education also improves our state’s ability to compete in the global job market. Individuals without a high school education are more than twice as likely to be unemployed. For this reason, adult education programs around the state are incorporating technical training into their programs. They have partnered with community colleges and businesses to provide training for certified nursing assistants, child development associates, certified logistics associates, forklift drivers, certified Microsoft Office specialists and much more. Adults in these programs are being given an opportunity to enter a career pathway.

We know the program works, but we also know our work is never done. Spread the word about Adult Education and Literacy in your community. Reach out to someone you know who never finished high school. It could change their life. To find out more about the Missouri Adult Education program at East Central College visit www.EastCentral.edu/AEL or call 844-322-4235 (844-ECC-4AEL).