Helping Adults with Foundational Skill Needs Access Pathways to Economic Mobility

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Adult students on laptops

Approximately 1 in 8 U.S. adults, or 27.5 million people, lack basic literacy, numeracy, and digital literacy skills, and another 14 million lack a high school diploma. Most of these individualsalmost 16% of the U.S. adult populationare unable to access employment opportunities in high-wage and high-demand occupations and industry sectors, because such opportunities increasingly require at least high school-level math, reading, writing, and digital literacy skills and some postsecondary training for entry.

Like justice-involved individuals and opportunity youth, adults with foundational skill needs are often unable to access or succeed in effective sectoral and community college workforce training programs. Providing high-quality training to these adults is paramount for their successful participation in a thriving workforce and resilient economy.

Adult education programs are the primary vehicle to serve adults with basic skill needs. A recent strategy that integrates adult basic education with essential entry-level skills in selected workforce fields has shown significant promise in successfully preparing such adults for occupational skills training and employment. Most Integrated Education and Training (IET) programs have been modeled after evidence-based programs, such as Washington’s Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST). Additionally, models such as adult charter schools are having notable success helping adults build the skills needed to gain meaningful employment and/or enroll in postsecondary training programs.

With this promising evidence base, PROMISE Center researchers are reviewing adult education data from the National Reporting System, states, and other current research to understand participation and outcome trends for IET, adult charters, and other adult education models. We will then undertake case studies of exemplary programs to investigate their outreach, enrollment, implementation, and outcome trends. Our ultimate goal is to identify promising programs to partner with. With these partners, we can help build the evidence base on and significantly expand the scale of implementation of effective interventions to support this important underserved population.


The PROMISE Center works to develop, build, and measure the impact of innovations that can increase economic opportunity and mobility in the U.S. at scale. The PROMISE Center is directly supported by the AIR Equity Initiative, AIR’s $100+ million five-year investment to advance equity in several important areas: workforce development, education, public safety and policing, and health.