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Adult Education Near You or Online: Learning Options for Mature Students

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Adult education classes help many people prepare for futures with fewer limits. Whether you're looking to sharpen your basic skills, get on a path to better opportunities, or just learn more about a topic that interests you, you can likely find adult education near you or online that can help you achieve your goals.

U.S. Adults (Age 25+) Snapshot

Share of College Attendees

An infographic that displays the share U.S. adults age 25+ who attended college was 34% in 2021.

No High School Diploma

An infographic that displays the percent of U.S. adults age 25+ that do not possess a high school diploma is 9% in 2022.

Adult Education Programs

Penn Foster

  • Online
  • High School Diploma

What Adult Education Means: An Overview

adult female student using laptopAdult education is a broad term that encompasses any type of training that people undertake once they are past the age for traditional schooling. Programs tend to focus on areas like:

  • Academic remediation and GED preparation
  • Career training
  • English-language proficiency
  • Parenting education
  • College readiness

The idea is to help adults develop the skills they need to become more functional or productive workers and citizens.

Adult education classes are commonly offered by vocational schools, technical institutes, community centers, libraries, community colleges, and faith-based organizations.

Who Adult Education Is For

Anyone can reap the benefits of skills development and lifelong learning. Adult education serves an incredibly diverse student base, including:

  • Unemployed or underemployed individuals who want to better their situations
  • Non-native English speakers who want to improve their language skills
  • Immigrants who want to prepare for citizenship exams
  • Ex-offenders who want to boost their literacy or math skills so they can land a job after being released from prison
  • Working professionals who want to upgrade their skills or move forward in their chosen fields
  • Single parents who want to improve their parenting abilities

More than 700,000 Americans over age 16 participated in federally funded adult education programs between 2020 and 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Almost 27 percent of them were between the ages of 16 and 24. More than half were between 25 and 44 years old.

Key Benefits of Adult Education

  1. Better employment prospects: The more education you have, the more likely you are to find steady work. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, individuals with less than a high school education have an average unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, while the rate for those who complete high school is only 6.2 percent.
  2. Increased income potential: The same BLS data shows that people who complete a high school diploma or equivalent credential earn 29 percent more than those who do not. In 2021, the median weekly earnings of high school graduates were $809, as opposed to $626 for people who lacked that level of education.
  3. Stronger bonds with family and community: Expanding your knowledge and learning new skills can help you develop more confidence in yourself and your ability to contribute to society. And that can help you feel more comfortable establishing new connections with neighbors, participating in civic activities, or guiding your child's development.

Salary information and job growth is based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) unless otherwise indicated.*

Types of Adult Learning Programs

Adult education covers a huge variety of areas. Here are a few of the most common kinds of programs you'll find:

1. Adult basic education

Typically aimed at people who are over 16 and not enrolled in school, these programs are designed to boost students' abilities in reading, writing, and math. Students receive instruction in grammar, reading comprehension, and sentence structure as well as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Many programs also include training in basic computer functions as well as college- or workforce-readiness skills.

2. High school equivalency

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that roughly nine percent of American adults over age 25 have not completed high school. If you're one of them, you can change your circumstances by taking an adult education program that helps you acquire a diploma or equivalent credential.

The GED has long been the standard route to a high school equivalency credential. Most (though not all) states accept the GED, and many adult education providers offer courses to help you prepare for the exams.

However, depending on where you live, you may have other options, including the following:

  • The High School Equivalency Test (HiSET) was designed to test students' abilities in the academic areas that typically make up the high school curriculum: math, science, social studies, reading comprehension, and writing. Questions are either essay-style or multiple-choice. The HiSET is available in both digital and paper formats (unlike the GED, which is entirely computer-based).
  • The National External Diploma Program (NEDP) is a bit different. It enables self-directed adults who have life and work experience to earn a high school diploma by demonstrating abilities in areas such as science, history, financial literacy, and civics. Students complete a set of computer-based assignments at their own pace and meet regularly with an assessor, but they do not attend any classes or take any exams.

Some states offer only one of the above options, while others give learners a choice. Be sure to check with your state's education department to see what rules apply in your area.

3. Vocational training

Many adult education providers offer career and technical education programs that can help you prepare for rewarding opportunities in fields like healthcare, information technology, the culinary arts, and the skilled trades. Some programs are designed to allow students to improve their basic literacy or math skills and train for a new occupation at the same time.

Below is a sample of careers that students can typically train for, along with their median salaries (from May 2021) as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

4. Continuing education

Continuing education is a bit of a catch-all phrase. It encompasses a wide range of short courses or programs aimed at adults who want to pursue formal training outside of a traditional college program. Courses are offered in many areas, including business administration, accounting, writing, and technology.

Some continuing ed classes are general-knowledge-type courses, while others lead to specific industry certifications. Individuals who work in industries like healthcare and education are often required to take continuing education credits in order to maintain their licensing.

5. Community education

adult male student working on laptopAdults who need help to become proficient in English or to prepare for becoming U.S. citizens can find many courses geared toward those needs.

English as a Second Language (ESL) or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) training is widely available. It focuses on basic grammar and reading as well as pronunciation and conversational skills. Some programs are geared toward adults who are aiming to go on to post-secondary training, while others are meant for students who are seeking employment or are currently in the workforce. And some are designed to help immigrants achieve the level of English proficiency that is required to pass the citizenship exam.

Courses that help immigrants prepare for the civics portion of the citizenship test are also common. They cover topics like geography, history, and the structure and functions of government. The courses themselves are often free, but you still need to pay for the actual exam.

6. Personal or family enrichment

You can also take adult education classes to learn more about a particular topic or hobby that interests you. Such personal enrichment classes can cover anything from cooking, dancing, and painting to yoga, guitar playing, and money management. Some programs are targeted at specific populations, such as senior citizens or adults with disabilities.

Family literacy or enrichment programs are also available. These are designed to help adults improve their parenting skills in order to promote positive family interactions and facilitate children's learning.

* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook. Some careers listed may be part of a combined occupation profile (visited July 11, 2023).