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Does participation in adult basic skills programs impact earnings?

Career Pathways comunity members,

Please read this posting from colleague David Rosen, in the Program Management community, and have a look at the important questions he asks.  If you have any thoughts on how you might be able to use these findings (question #3), please share them with our group.


Have you wondered if there is evidence that participating in an ABE program has a long-term impact on adult learners' earnings? Perhaps you have been frustrated that there is little if any research on the question of economic impact. You may even be familiar with Economist James Heckman's research that shows that getting a GED diploma or certificate does not have an impact on one's lifelong earnings unless it is used to open the gate to further education and training and one completes at least a year of training and education leading to a certificate or degree.

Now, we have evidence from researcher Stephen Reder at Portland State University, based on his analysis of data from his Longitudinal Study of Adult Literacy (LSAL), a decade-long study of about a thousand randomly selected adult school dropouts in Portland Oregon. The U.S. Department of Education has published this research brief (along with four others of Reder's research briefs) in which he analyzes the economic impact results for participants in adult basic skills (ABS) programs.

The March 26th U.S. Department of Education OCTAE Newsletter offers this summary:

The Impact of ABS Program Participation on Long-Term Economic Outcomes  considers the long-term impact of participation in ABS programs on individuals' earnings. The research results show that individuals who participate in ABS programs have higher future earnings as a result of participating, and their income premiums are larger with more intensive participation. Minimal levels of participation do not produce statistically significant premiums, but 100 hours or more of attendance were found to equate to extra earnings of $9,621 per year, in 2013 dollars.

The research brief is, well, brief. You can read it in under  thirty minutes or skim it in under five minutes. Please do read it, and comment on it here.

1. What do the findings mean for your program? For example, was the 100 hours or more of attendance needed for significant impact a surprise or a confirmation of what you already know?

2. Are the findings important?

3. Could you use these findings in educating students, community members, local policy makers, education funders who have expressed doubt about the impact of adult basic skills education? If so, how would you use them? In your program or school? With your state professional development agency? WIth your state adult education public policy education/advocacy group? With your state adult learner leadership group? What exactly would you do with these findings.

If you want to read about all five research briefs that are based on the LSAL data, see the OCTAE newsletter at  (If it hasn't been posted yet, the March 26th issue should be available soon. Check back.)

David J. Rosen


2learn-English's picture

G R E A T information. A much needed evidence based report. 


Thanks for letting us know


Arthur Rubin



Mev Miller @RICFB's picture

Does anyone know if there is a similar / recent report on the benefits of on-the-job training programs (e.g., culinary, janitorial, cna, etc) and the impacts on earnings? or employment viability?


Mev Miller

Life Skills Manager, Community Kitchen Culinary training - RI Community Food bank

Michael Cruse's picture
One hundred

Hi, Mev -

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released the following statement, which may help with your search for wage information.  I'll let you know if I come across anything as comprehensive as the full reports David cited.

New BLS info in O*NET websites

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released wage estimates for 2014. The latest wages are now included in career reports within O*NET OnLineMy Next MoveMi Próximo Paso, and My Next Move for Veterans.