Day One: Long-term Impact of Adult Basic Skills Program Participation

Greetings One and All:

Today we kick off a multi-group, week-long discussion on the impact of participation in Adult Basic Skills (ABS) programs beginning with a webinar on the Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning (LSAL) by Dr. Steve Reder.  If you haven’t registered for the today’s webinar, see the link below.

Event Title: What’s Happening in Adult Basic Skills Programs: The Long-term Impact of ABS on Economic Outcomes, Postsecondary Engagement, and GED Attainment

Date(s):  Webinar – October 19, 2015 (1:00PM – 2:00 PM ET); Register now!

Following the webinar, we will continue the discussion throughout the week, ending on Friday, October 23, 2015, in the LINCS Career Pathways, Financial Literacy, Postsecondary Completion, and Program Management groups.

All community members are invited!

The LSAL study has been written up in four briefs available in the LINCS Resource Collection.   You can link to them directly by clicking on each title below.

Cynthia Zafft

Postsecondary Completion Moderators


This first report considers the ‘long-term impact of participation on individuals’ earnings, using data from the Longitudinal Study of Adult Learning (LSAL).  

Report Highlights:

The LSAL population demographics indicate an average age of 28, evenly divided between men and women.  Minorities are represented by one third of the population, and one in three persons reported having a learning disability.  68% (almost two thirds) of the LSAL population had participated in Adult Basic Skills (ABS) programs between leaving high school and the end of study in 2007.  Reasons for this higher than expected participation rate are the longer-term duration of the study, a participant age cap of 44 years old, and the definition of participation being ‘any participation’, not the usual 12 hour per year minimum normally required by government programs.

Results from the various statistical analyses suggest that “the number of hours of program attendance an individual accumulated through a given point in time is a statistically significant, positive predictor of that individual’s earning at that point in time.  The intensity of participation is also important, with about 100 hours again being a critical level.  The strongest predictor of future earnings combines both intensity and elapsed time since the onset of participation: the more time elapsed since an individual accumulated 100 hours of attendance, the greater the individual’s earnings tended to be.”  

Questions for Consideration:

This raises the question, what is happening during the elapsed time that helps to drive up the income of ABS learners?  Do you think learners’ access to other services, perhaps through a Career One Stop Center or state vocational rehabilitation system, may attribute for some of these income gains?  If that is the case, under WIOA’s unified planning system, can we expect to see the elapsed time between program completion and increased earnings decrease? Is this a desirable goal; does it seem achievable?  What challenges do you anticipate?  What supports do you think would need to be in place to achieve a quicker transition to the workplace?

Hi Michael and Colleagues:

Thank you for this review, Mike.  Very helpful.

We just finished the webinar a couple of hours ago and I want to start by thanking Steve Reder for shepherding this research effort and for providing an overview of the findings for our community.  While the LINCS YouTube video of the webinar will take 1-2 weeks to prepare for uploading, the reports are available to us right now.

For those of you who attended the webinar, or who have read the brief on economic outcomes, I'm wondering -- what are your take-aways?  And, what are your questions for Steve?  As you know, one hour goes by very quickly so please post any questions as they come to you.  And, I will be organizing the questions from the webinar for posting tomorrow morning, at the latest.

Cynthia Zafft

Postsecondary Completion Moderator


I'll get right to the point because I don't want you to miss it: this research may be the most important our field has had for arguing that adult basic skills programs have a significant economic impact, that there is a return on investment of public dollars. As I understand it, this study in particular can be used by Adult Basic Skills (ABS) programs to argue that learner participation in ABS programs for an average of 100 hours or more leads -- after five or six years -- to an annual earnings increase of an average of nearly $10,000 per learner.

You may be thinking, can this be true for students in my program? Possibly. This is the only longitudinal study of adults who have dropped out of school that has been done in the U.S.. It lasted about a decade. It is the only study that has been able to capture impact (outcomes over time, not just at the end of one year). By the end of the study about 90% of the participants were still in the study (remarkable in itself -- kudos to the researchers!). The study had a random sample of nearly a thousand participants. All good. The big limitation, however, is that strictly speaking we can only generalize the findings to adults who have dropped out of school in Portland Oregon, where the study was conducted. We need more studies, ideally in every state, to determine if the findings are the same in other places.

I am not sure if Steve Reder covered this in the webinar today as I was not able to attend, but I have two questions, and perhaps you have other questions.

1. Is it possible for other states to capture data to determine what the economic impact is of adults who have dropped out of school and who later enroll in ABS programs, and to compare those outcomes with school dropouts who do not participate in an ABS program?

2. If so, how?

Do you have questions for Steve Reder? About the study? About how it was conducted? About what it means?  If so, please post them here.

David J. Rosen

Moderator Program Management CoP