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May 22, 2009


Board discussion will launch Illinois Public Agenda initiative to boost education attainment

SPRINGFIELD – There are about 5.2 million Illinois adults whose educational future may hold the key to the state’s economic destiny.

They are working-age residents who lack a college degree and, according to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), they form an ocean of opportunity for Illinois to increase educational attainment, workforce participation, and economic growth. Pamela Tate, CAEL’s president and CEO, will discuss “Strategies to Attract Adult Learners to College” with the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) at its meeting June 2 at Governors State University.

“We are fortunate to have a nationally recognized expert help the Board explore ways that higher education can reach the millions of working-age adults who lack a postsecondary credential,” Carrie J. Hightman, IBHE Chairwoman, said. “We know from the development of the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success that this is a population of tremendous untapped potential as we attempt to raise the level of educational attainment and economic vitality for the State of Illinois. This is a workforce issue of the greatest urgency.”

CAEL is a Chicago-based national nonprofit organization and a leader in advocating and advancing lifelong learning opportunities and strategies. In a major report released last year, Adult Learning in Focus, CAEL provided a state-by-state examination of the status of adult education in the U.S.

For Illinois, the report card was: Not bad, but not great.

According to the CAEL study, which was assisted by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, the consultants for the Illinois Public Agenda:

  • Illinois ranks above the national average – but well behind the best-performing states and most-educated countries – in both the percent of young adults who have completed high school and the percent of those 25-34 years of age with an associate’s degree or higher.
  • 64 percent of working-age adults (18-64) in Illinois have no college degree.
  • More than 1 million of those adults lack a high school diploma, or its equivalent.
  • The top states award GEDs to adults at about double the rate of Illinois.
  • Similarly, Illinois enrolls high school dropouts in adult ed programs at half the rate of the top-ranking states.

The CAEL report also highlights the economic payoff of educational attainment. While only six in 10 high school dropouts are in the labor force, more than eight in 10 with college credentials are employed. A person with a bachelor’s degree can expect, on average, lifetime earnings of nearly $2.5 million; the lifetime earnings of a person with a high school diploma is about $1.4 million.

“The CAEL study confirms the conclusions of the Illinois Public Agenda,” Hightman said. “ Illinois is on a perilous path unless we find ways to bring more students – particularly nontraditional students, first-generation college students, and adult learners – into postsecondary education.

“This is an opportunity for the Board of Higher Education, in partnership with the Illinois Community College Board, to put a face on the issue of educational attainment and to take concrete steps to eradicate the achievement gap that denies far too many of our citizens a shot at workforce opportunities and the quality of life that comes with higher education.”

The presentation by Pam Tate will represent the second in a series of in-depth discussions aimed at deepening understanding of critical issues and forming action steps to implement the Illinois Public Agenda for College and Career Success. In March, Patrick Callan, President of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, addressed Board members on means to link state funding to the goals of the Illinois Public Agenda.


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