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Is Adult Education Right For Teens?


INTRO: More and more Connecticut teens are leaving high school for adult education programs. Some say these programs offer more flexibility to kids who would otherwise just drop out of school. But others say adult education is not for teens. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports.

A third of the students in adult education programs are aged 21 and under. 5000 of them are teens and that number is rising every year. Former Soros Justice Fellow Laura McCargar recently authored a report on why this may be happening. Speaking on WNPR’s “Where We Live,” McCargar said many students are told they’re taking too long to graduate, and they get pushed out of high school. But many don’t realize that Connecticut students can legally be in high school up until they turn 21.

MCCARGAR: “That’s widely misunderstood by both students, parents, and, I’ve found, often many high school and district-level administrators who think that young people have to graduate from high school by the time they’re 18.”

The state spends a lot less money on adult ed students than public school students – about $1600 compared to more than $13,000. But Alicia Caraballo of the New Haven Adult Education Center pointed out that adult education programs can sometimes be better for students who are struggling. The flexible hours allow students to be enrolled and also have a part-time or even full-time job. And the New Haven center offers classes that traditional high schools don’t.  

CARABALLO: “We do a large number of life skills, social development, we look at workplace preparation, and so – case management – those are the kinds of services that are critical, particularly given the population that we’re working with.”

Still, the fact is the high school diploma and the GED just don’t have the value in the job market that they used to. Barbara Endell works for Jobs for the Future, which is leading an initiative to make degrees from adult education programs more valuable to employers.

ENDELL: “Most of the jobs now that are going to be required over the next 15 years, you have to have something beyond a high school diploma or GED. So what we’re trying to do is basically say, you know, obviously your GED or diploma are important, but it’s more important to make sure you’ve got a marketable skill.”

The initiative has started to show results in Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, and Illinois. Jobs for the Future hopes to expand it to other states in a few years.

For WNPR, I’m Neena Satija.

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