Maine Adult Education in the Public-school Environment Making a Difference for Maine People Talking Points for Local Programs
Adult Education programs were initiated in Maine in the late 19th and early 20th century, primarily in urban areas, to meet multiple community needs; worker training, immigrants in need of English classes, and a boost toward higher education for those returning from military service. In rural areas, programs were initiated in the 1960’s and 1970’s, motivated by interest in lifelong learning, literacy, high school completion, and building community support for school districts following the Sinclair Act consolidation. Adult Education programs are recognized as a way for a school system to involve the residents without children in the school system. Classes bring people into the facilities allowing them a chance to realize a personal return on their investment of tax dollars and to see what is going on in today’s schools through being in the building. Adult Education programs provide an “alternative” education and are a re-entry point for those who drop out. School districts realize significant financial gain through the 16-20 reimbursement based on the number of students served. (2129 in the period Jan.-June, 2007) This funding, often thousands of dollars in larger programs, goes to the General Fund, not designated for Adult Education. In the current NCLB and MLR environment, it is critical that Adult Education work closely with the high schools to provide mutual support, and often “credit recovery”, in serving our young people. Adult Education’s role in College Transition is widely recognized in Maine; most recently by the Community College system, the Legislature, Governor Baldacci, the Melmac Foundation, and the Compact for Higher Education. The somewhat unheralded role Adult Education has played for 20 years in making the ITV sites of the University of Maine System a success is also increasingly recognized. The Legislature provided funding for 22 College Transition programs that began operation in 2007-2008. Adult Education is an economic development facet of every community. The workplace is changing, the school age population is dropping rapidly, and the existence of adult education is an asset to communities, especially in rural Maine. The service to Maine’s dislocated workers during the past decade has been a major focus of Adult Education. 80% of the workforce of 2020 is on the job today and must have access to education and re-training. The skill training certificate programs offered by adult education programs are critical for Maine adults. Adult Education must remain “local” to be available to rural Mainers. While some level of consolidation is logical, and is happening, communities that are located in relative isolation must guard against loss of opportunity and local relevance. Distance learning, both web-based and via ATM, offers tremendous opportunity for growth, but the “high touch” support valued by adult learners must accompany the “high tech” delivery modes. Adult Education must be a very entrepreneurial facet of the modern school system. A program must be nimble in recognizing trends, offering programs and courses that attract diverse community sectors, and build on talents available within the community.
Adult Education programs often are the R&D component of education, developing new learning options and then, in some cases, spinning them off to the private sectors. The best programs are dynamic and everchanging. Working collaboratively with others doing “adult education” is critical for programs to maximize opportunity for their community members. Statewide, regional, and local collaborations with the Career Centers, Literacy Volunteers affiliates, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Maine Centers for Women, Work & Community, local Chambers of Commerce, and others are critical to building an effective program. In Maine, the “Gray-est” State in the US, the aging population provides great opportunity for adult education but will demand changes in the scheduling of programs. Lifelong learning is usually mentioned by school boards in designing their mission statement. The Adult Education program is the manifestation of this – and is the “Jewel in the Crown” of many Maine school systems. Adult Education programs are important tools for community-building. In former times the Grange, Farm Bureau, Extension and church groups provided “adult education”. In modern times, schools are the heart of the community, and adult education programs provide this community connection and educational role. In a school district environment, the adult education budget must be approved in a district meeting or referendum vote. It is vital that every person viewing the brochure see something that connects with their interests to provide a personal connection with the program. The vital economic development programs – high school completion, literacy, college transition and vocational offerings, involve a relatively small portion of the voting population. However their survival relies on the interest and support of all voters. A vibrant community education program, well advertised, does this. Keeping in touch with individuals who have benefited from the vocational, literacy, college transitions and high school completion programs, and publicizing their successes, is also important to build support, as is an active advisory council. The web portal, www.maineadulted.org, is a tremendous tool for Mainers interested in life-long learning, with online registration and payment and individual pages for most of Maine’s programs.
Summary: Adult Education is valued in 2009 as Maine confronts new demographic and economic realities. Adult Education programs in Maine should be seen as a vital component of the school system. The Maine Department of Education, particularly Commissioner Susan Gendron, recognizes this and has included Adult Education at the table in all of her initiatives, including PreK-16, the Learning Results re-write, the joint task force with Department of Labor on workforce issues the 21st Century Council, the PreK-20 Council, and on a variety of postsecondary efforts. The Maine legislature has consistently supported adult education funding, most recently in restoring $229,229 in funds cut in the Supplemental Budget.
Prepared by the Maine Adult Education Association, Winter 2005; Revised Winter 2007; Winter 2008.; Winter 2009.