EMBARGO UNTIL December 15, 2005


Statewide data shows continued need for adult literacy programs, as national survey results are released


 OLYMPIA – The National Assessment of Adult Literacy survey results will be released today (December 15). The results, based on a comprehensive survey, will give a status of literacy among the national adults age 16 and over. In Washington state, much is known about the levels of literacy and the connection to the workforce.

            “For many years in Washington state we have been closely tracking adult literacy trends and impacts on the economy,” said Earl Hale, the State Board’s executive director. “We know this continues to be an area where we can do more to support the residents of our state and strengthen our economy.”

            The population in Washington who has English as their second language is the fastest growing in Washington state, according to the 2000 Census. Between 1990 and 2000, the non-English speaking adult population more than doubled from 117,000 to 261,000.

            In addition to newcomers to Washington, home-grown residents are lacking the skills necessary to gain livable wage jobs. Out of all working-age adults in Washington, one-third have a high school diploma or less.

            In total, one in six adults in Washington doesn’t have the skills to secure a livable wage job. According to the most recent census, the combination of all the state’s working age adults who have a high school education or less and younger people ages 18 to 24 who have less than a high school diploma, equals the total size of all high school graduating classes between 2000-2011.

            “This data doesn’t really hit home until people realize the impacts that a lesser educated society has on our economy,” said Israel David Mendoza, the State Board’s director of adult literacy and basic skills programs.

            According to a study last year by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Washington state would realize an estimated $3.9 billion increase in total personal income and $1.4 billion in additional tax revenues if all ethnic groups experienced the same educational attainment and earnings as whites.

A recent study by the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges shows the tipping point for a student to obtain a livable wage job and a reliable career is one year of college-level courses plus a credential. ESL students who reached this point or beyond earned $7,000 more per year than ESL students who were unable to reach the one-year tipping point.

“Ironically, those jobs that are in greatest demand require one year of college and a credential, such as a certificate in welding, nursing or drafting,” Mendoza said.

In response to this tipping point data, the Washington community and technical colleges are offering innovative programs that link English and math education with job training. This creates opportunities for students to secure livable wage jobs in a shorter period of time.

“It’s important to note that nearly all of these students were working before they started this training – but they were barely able to support their families on two or even three minimum wage jobs,” Mendoza said. “We know we need to offer more programs like these, but the issues are outpacing the resources.”

There are significant results from these new classes that combine basic skills with workforce education. These students were five times more likely to earn college credits and 15 times more likely to complete workforce training than were traditional ESL students during the same amount of time. In these combined courses, 44 percent of students completed skills training, in contrast to just three percent of ESL students trying to separately take English and job training courses. Twenty six (26) percent of students in the combined courses received a credential and 18 percent reached other recognized skills attainment levels.

“These courses require additional resources in the classroom and on college campuses,” Mendoza said. “But, we have the evidence that these courses work to get people the skills needed and allow them to earn livable wage jobs.”

All of this research gives a statewide perspective to the national survey results.

            “We’re poring over the NAALs report to identify regional and national trends, but we already know the conclusions – this is a population that cannot be ignored,” Mendoza said. “Our state must provide the education and job training necessary to support our economy.”



Contact: Suzy Ames, 360-704-4310 sames@sbctc.ctc.edu