Adult Education Has Pivotal Role in Connecticut, New England

Connecticut by the Numbers
Adult education is especially important in Connecticut and New England due to the region’s aging population.Shutterstock image

Connecticut is the 7th oldest state in the nation – a state where, according to most recent Census data, the number of children is declining. The total number of children under 18 fell by 10 percent between 2010 and 2020 in the state, even as the state’s overall population grew by nearly 1 percent.

Adult education, therefore, is especially important in Connecticut and New England due to the region’s aging population. The New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) reported this week that New England’s median age is 41, compared with the national median age of 39. Which means that older workers play a more pronounced role in the regional economy, and adult education takes on added significance. In addition, partially driven by COVID, enrollment is down throughout much of higher education, particularly among community colleges.

Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that Connecticut experienced a 3.5 percentage point decline in college enrollment from 2019 levels, which ranks 23rd of the 50 states in terms of the largest percentage point decline, according to the Office of Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont.

The Governor’s Workforce Council Strategic Plan, issued in 2019, pointed out that “Over 320,000 of our residents (12% of all adults) have not earned a high school diploma. An additional 20% of high school diploma holders have not mastered sufficient basic skills for postsecondary and employment success. A third and growing population of 120,000 people are non-native speakers learning English as a Second Language (ESL) and building a path to citizenship. The need for adult education is significant and growing.”

Educational opportunities for those age 25 and older allow people already in the workforce to improve their skills, employment opportunities and wages in ways that they may not otherwise be able to, NEHBE pointed out this month.

Adult education opportunities respond to changes in the workplace and the workforce. NEBHE updated data on adult learners in the six New England states, highlighting economic conditions, universities that serve adult learners, educational attainment figures, and labor market information.

Among key findings – and recommendations - cited by NEBHE:

  • Large differences in attainment by geography. There are large differences in educational attainment rates across different parts of each state. Sparsely populated rural areas, in particular, have very low attainment levels, compared with more urban and wealthier parts of the region. Plans to increase educational attainment should focus on providing opportunities for people in less accessible and more isolated areas through methods like more flexible schedules or remote and hybrid education models.
  • Some college, no degree. Regionwide, 17% of adults 25 and older have some college experience but no degree. This population holds only a very small wage advantage over those with only a high school diploma, and endures similar unemployment rates. Helping those with some college credit finish their degrees would allow more individuals to see the significant wage and employment gains enjoyed by people with college degrees at a lower cost and in a shorter time than focusing on those without any college at all.
  • High-skilled labor demand. High-skill industries—such as finance, professional services, management and technology—are among the highest-growth fields in the past five years in many New England states. For example, from 2015 to 2020, the region posted a net gain of 56,920 jobs in management and 50,920 jobs in business and financial operations. Skills in accounting and auditing are also among the most frequently listed in job postings in many of the states, with 136,150 postings in New England listing auditing and 124,149 postings listing accounting from July 2020 to June 2021, according to the labor market data company Emsi. Tailoring educational opportunities including both degrees and shorter programs to these industries and skills will improve students’ employment prospects.
  • Massive demand for nursing. From July 2020 to June 2021, nursing was the most listed skill in the region with 192,213 mentions in job postings. Varying levels of nursing qualifications, such as Certified Nursing Assistant, Licensed Practical Nurse, Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Critical Care Registered Nurse, and Nurse Practitioner, appeared repeatedly across states as the most sought-after qualifications in online postings. Especially given the context of an aging population and a persistent pandemic, providing adequate training to adults for not just nursing positions but a wide range of related roles (such as professors to teach these nursing programs, nurse practitioners to assist doctors, and nursing assistants) should be a priority of adult education programs in the region.

In Connecticut, the Governor’s Workforce Council has noted that the state’s system for adult education “should expand eligibility to include high school diploma holders who need further education to increase their access to employment and postsecondary education. Connecticut will also need to substantially rethink its funding approach for adult education.”

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