Lifelong Learning: A Roadway to Success

Photo credit: Heidi Markley Photography

National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week (September 24-30, 2017) is a big opportunity to come together as a field to celebrate adult education and to raise awareness of the 36 million adult learners across the nation who are in need of assistance.

Of the 36 million adult learners, the U.S. Department of Education’s Adult Education and Family Literacy Act (AEFLA) program, enacted as Title II of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), serves 1.5 million adults each year under. WIOA is the primary federal program that provides foundation skills to those who are below the postsecondary level and English literacy instruction for out of-school youth and adults over the age of 16.

Education is and continues to be the pathway to success. The Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) supports programs through WIOA funding that assist adult students in acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to become productive workers, parents and citizens—and that help them transition to postsecondary education and lifelong learning and training.

Among its many efforts, OCTAE has long participated in visits to programs across the country that exemplify the work of programs that support the diverse needs of adult learners.

Highlighted here are two students whose stories represent both their successes and those of programs that supported them.

Paul “Reggie” Bryant (Photo credit: Heidi Markley Photography)

Paul “Reggie” Bryant, age 68, shown at left and with his diploma at the top of this post, attended the Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School (AoH), and recently gave the keynote address at his graduation, in which he recognized his peers and their accomplishments. In his address, Reggie shared with the audience that he had spent most of his life just miles away from the Academy of Hope but “the journey to graduation was a long one.” Like many adult learners, Reggie has exceeded the age of a typical high school graduate. But his story—which includes serious battles with addiction, brief periods of incarceration, and a misdiagnosed learning disorder—are not unfamiliar to the teachers supporting these students’ efforts and the students enrolled in the Academy, many of whom share similar journeys and accomplishments.

Tiffanie Edwards displays her diploma. (Photo credit: James Cabrera)

When Tiffanie Edwards, who graduated from the Goodwill Excel Center, was a senior in high school she experienced a family tragedy leading her to isolating herself from her regular life routines. She left high school and began working. She struggled to subsist, living paycheck to paycheck. Now a mother, Tiffanie has emphasized the value of an education to her daughter—and returned to school. She shared the following: “I wanted to provide more for her and I knew education was the path for that.”  She has since graduated from the Goodwill Excel Center and is now attending the University of the District of Columbia, studying Early Childhood Development—with the goal of becoming a teacher.

As these two student stories exemplify, the work of programs across the nation are making a profound difference in the lives of adult learners. These learners are able to be more solvent financially and to care for their families, be more actively engaged in their communities and as citizens, and are better able to continue to sustain their competitiveness and employability in a changing marketplace. Unfortunately their successes are the exception since one in six adults in the U.S. lacks basic reading skills and cannot read a job application, understand basic written instructions, or navigate the Internet.

Tiffanie’s decisions and her accomplishments will continue to affect her daughter. Large-scale international and national surveys of student achievement reveal that children with parents who have lower levels of educational attainment tend to have fewer socioeconomic advantages and score lower on academic assessments and those whose parents have higher levels of educational attainment often have greater socioeconomic advantages and score higher on academic assessments. Non-traditional students, like Tiffanie and Reggie, serve as powerful role models and exemplars for the power of lifelong learning.

As these two adult students’ stories suggest, individuals have a diverse range of opportunities available to them in which they can explore leaning opportunities, whether it is through the completion of a degree or via libraries, online courses, such as massive open online courses (MOOC), professional development programs, podcasts and other types of learning options.

In sum: “[E]ducation is life—not merely preparation for an unknown kind of future living… The whole of life is learning, therefore education can have no endings. This new venture is called adult education not because it is confined to adults but because adulthood, maturity, defines its limits…” (Lindeman The Meaning of Adult Education. 1926: 4-5).

Are you a lifelong learner with a story to share? OCTAE would appreciate hearing from you, and possibly featuring your story in a future blog post.

An earlier version of this post omitted Tiffanie Edwards last name and incorrectly reported her age.


Joseph Perez is a Management and Program Analyst in the Department of Education’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education.

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