June 30, 1992 to July 1, 1995
Adult Education Act, P.L. 100-297 as Amended by the
National Literacy Act, P.L. 102-73

Submitted by:

California Department of Education
Specialized Programs Branch
Youth, Adult and Alternative Educational Services Division
Adult Education Unit


Chapter 4b



The term "disadvantaged" can take many meanings. From the standpoint of adult education, the pertinent concern is the number of persons who do not posses adequate skills and knowledge to function productively and with dignity in our society. For the purposes of the Revised State Plan the term "educationally disadvantaged adult" means an adult who (1) demonstrates basic skills equivalent to or below that of students at the fifth grade level; or (2) has been placed in the lowest or beginning level of an adult education program when that program does not use grade level equivalencies as a measure of a student's basic skills. [Public Law 100-297, Section 312] Data show that the increasing skill requirements of life and work are not being matched by increasing skill attainment among an alarming number of Californians. The scope of educational and skill deficiency within California can be summarized by reviewing educational attainment and illiteracy.

Educational Attainment

The educational attainment and skill level of the California population is on par with the national average.16 Further, the general trend of educational attainment is upward. In 1977, some 14.8 percent of California adults over age 25 had completed no more than 8 years of school. By 1987, this group had declined to 11.9 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, achievement at the college level has increased.

Despite this improvement of educational attainment, the average level of skill attainment is unlikely to match the skill requirements of the future. A major reason for this gap is that educational achievement has not been equal among California's population, and the population groups that are growing the fastest have the least education. Most notably, there are significant differences among ethnic and racial groups. On average, Hispanics commonly fail to complete junior high school while other ethnic-racial groups average have had a high school education or more. The educational attainment of Whites, Asians and Blacks has averaged between 11.5 and 13 years of school in recent years. In contrast, Hispanics averaged between 9 and 9.6 years of school during the 1977-87 period.17

The educational gap between Hispanics and the rest of the State is dramatized by comparing benchmarks of achievement. Some 51 percent of Hispanics over age 25 have not completed high school compared to 21 percent of the total California adult population. Almost half of the total population has completed at least some college compared to only 20 percent among Hispanics (See Exhibit 4).


Exhibit 4 - [OMITTED]



While years of education does not necessarily equate to actual learning and skills, it is a reasonable indicator of educational achievement.18 Given this assumption, the above overview of educational attainment suggests the scope of basic educational deficiencies. In 1987, some 21.1 percent of the total state population over age 25 had not completed high school, and 12 percent had completed no more than an 8th grade education (See Exhibit 4). In absolute numbers, this translates to 3.5 million adults without a high school diploma and 2.0 million with no more than eight years of schooling.


Another indicator of skill deficiencies comes from studies of illiteracy in California. A study conducted by SRA Associates estimated that 15 percent or 3.1 million of California's 20 million population over age 14 had "significant literacy performance deficiencies during 1987.19 These estimates also indicate significant variations of illiteracy on the basis of ethnic and racial classification. Specifically, some 23.9 percent or 890,121 of the 3,724,355 California Hispanics over age 14 were estimated to have literacy deficiencies. Some 26.5 percent of Blacks and 28.3 percent of Asians were also estimated to have a similar level of deficiency. While only 9.8 percent of Whites had literacy deficiencies, they constituted the largest absolute numbers of illiterate persons (See Exhibit 5).


Exhibit 5


Ethnic-Racial Group:   Total
 Over 14:
 Number with
 Percent with
White13,545,153 1,327,425  9.8%  
Hispanic3,724,355 890,121  23.9%  
Asian and Other1,646,628 464,349  28.2%  
Black1,484,592 393,413  26.5%  
Total State20,400,728 3,075,308  15.1%  

Source: Donald Dixon, Merrill Vargo and Davis Campbell. Illiteracy in
California: Needs Services and Propects, SRA Associates, 1987.


Using projected proportions of ethnic-racial groups as a basis of forecasting the future size of California's illiterate population, it is estimated that the proportion of the California population over age 14 that have literacy deficiencies to increase from an estimated 15 percent in 1987 to 18.6 percent in 2020. In absolute terms, this would mean that some 4.2 million persons would have literacy deficiencies in the year 2000, and that this group could increase to 5.8 million by 2020.20

Future Skill Deficiencies

Will the proportion of adults with skill deficiencies increase or decrease? Review of the two major causes of adult educational deficiencies indicate growth of skill shortages. First, an alarming number of school-aged youth are dropping out of school or failing to learn while in school.21 Large portions of these "youth-at-risk" ultimately become "adults-at-risk" with basic educational deficiencies.22 Second, immigrant adults and their children frequently do not have formal educations from their native countries, and when they have, they may still have language handicaps resulting from problems with learning English.

At this time, the key forces causing skill deficiencies show no signs of abating. High school dropout rates remain at about 30 percent. Immigration rates show no signs of slowing down. Unless a significant turn-around is achieved concerning attrition from high school, and immigration slows significantly, the proportion of adults with basic educational deficiencies is likely to grow.


The homeless population in California may number as many as 250,000.23 The Health and Welfare Agency estimates the number to be around 115,000. But even this number appears conservative when the Homeless Assistance Program reports giving financial assistance to 114,782 homeless "families" between February and December 1988.24 Although little comparative data exists, a number of shelters report families and women with children to be the fastest growing segment. An estimated one-third of the homeless are mentally ill; while alcoholism and drug abuse continue to be persistent problems that block escape from the homeless cycle.

Certainly the immediate solution is affordable housing, but as the State Department of Housing and Community Development points out, homelessness is not simply a "housing" problem. The needs of the homeless are as diverse as the population itself. Because job requirements have become more advanced, these people will be even further disadvantaged due to their displacement from the job market (and the mainstream of society) for long periods of time. There is a need for support services that include drug and alcohol rehabilitation, mental health services, health and safety counseling, job training, coping skills and general survival skills (budgeting skills. shopping skills, and utilizing community services).

The California Department of Education (CDE) has identified 25,000 homeless school-age children.25 These children will be teenagers and young adults in the coming decade and may require special assistance if they are to break the cycle of homelessness. Due to their transient lifestyle, these children will probably lack the basic education needed to survive without public assistance when they become adults, particularly if the parents are also without basic skills. Adult education may be required, therefore, to address the problem of functional illiteracy among homeless families in order to prevent the perpetuation of homelessness from one generation to the next.


The California prison population has grown much faster than the state population. The State Prison system alone has grown from 25,000 inmates in 1980 to almost 74,000 in 1988, and is projected to have 98,000 by 1991.26 The average number of prisoners in county jails has risen from approximately 29,000 in 1980 to 65,000 in 1988.27 In addition to these incarcerated individuals, another 63,000 (in 1988) are under the supervision of the Department of Corrections, including paroles, jurisdictional placements and other prisoner classifications.28 Available information indicates that over half the inmate population did not graduate from high school, read below the 9th grade level, and were either unemployed or employed less than six consecutive months before being incarcerated. These data suggest that many inmates will require remedial education if they are to have a chance at rehabilitation. Moreover, growth of state, county, and California Youth Authority prison populations suggests expanding demands upon adult education from this group.


The Department of Developmental Services (DDS) reports the existence of 56,675 developmentally disabled clients, 45,520 of whom are over the age of 22. They claim that this number represents the large majority of developmentally disabled persons in the general population. These persons reside in state hospitals, community care centers or in private homes. Four out of five are considered "ambulatory" or able to partially care for themselves.

The number of developmentally disabled persons receiving services from DDS has increased a dramatic 49 percent since 1982, when the Department began keeping comparable statistics. The likely explanation is that the developmentally disabled population is becoming more aware of the services available to them. Contributing to this is the increasing number of special education students who leave school and continue to receive services from DDS.

The decision by the State to move more of the developmentally disabled population from state hospitals to community care facilities will increase the demand for educational services for this group. In order to live and survive in these less structured community facilities, these individuals will need to learn more functional living and self-care skills.

General health issues may also require health and safety instruction within certain communities. The increasing costs of medical care and health insurance may foster a demand for classes dealing with preventive health care. Additionally, the continued growth of AIDS may require public instruction on this modern day plague.

The above eight population groups are not the only groups that will impact adult education. However, they do identify trends and developments which have been documented by facts. These eight sub-populations can be predicted with some assurance, providing a foundation for long-term planning.

16 Median educational attainment for both the Nation and our State is about 12.5 years of education for adults over the age of 25 years. State estimates come from breakdowns of recent Current Population Survey (CPS) data provided courtesy of the Department of Finance. National data is cited from Statistical Abstracts of the United States, 1988, Bureau of the Census, Washington, D.C., 1988, Table 201, page 125.

17 Fred Best, Adult Education Needs for a Changing State, Pacific Management and Research Associates, Sacramento, November 18, 1988, pages 30-33.

18 Realistically, many who have left high school without a diploma have the skills and knowledge expected of a high school graduate. Conversely, many who receive high school diplomas do not have the skills for which they have been certified. In sum, it seems realistic to assume that the number of persons who have not completed 12 years of school roughly reflects the number of Californians who have some basic educational deficiencies, and the number with no more than eight years of schooling have serious basic educational deficiencies (Donald Dixon, Merril Vargo and Davis Campbell, Illiteracy in California: Needs, Services and Prospects, Paper prepared for the State Department of Eduation, SRA Associates, July 1987, pages 23-33).

19 Donald Dixon, Merrill Vargo and Davis Campbell, Illiteracy in California: Needs Services and Prospects, SRA Associates, 1987, pages 39-41.

20 Fred Best, Adult Education Needs for a Changing State, Pacific Management and Research Associates, Sacramento, November 18, 1988, page 23. Projections calculated with census data using estimates of literacy deficiencies provided in Donald Dixon, Merrill Vargo, and Davis Campbell, Illiteracy in California: Needs, Services and Prospects, SRA Associates, 1987.

21 Current trends indicate that unsuccessful completion of K-12 education is likely to continue as a cause of adult basic educational deficiencies. Statewide high school attendance rates indicate the extent of the drop-out problem. Between 1980 and 1987, the percent of students entering ninth grade that failed to complete twelfth grade has fluctuated, around 30 percents (Fred Best, Vocational Education at a Crossroads: A Preliminary Assessment of the Impacts of Senate Bill 813, Graduation Requirements on Vocational Education and "High Risk" Students, Report prepared for Superintendent Bill Honig, Pacific Management and Research Associates, Sacramento, June 1986, pages 20-34).

22 While some school age youth who leave school or fail to earn a high school diploma at age 28 return for a GED or other equivalency certification before age 24, most do not. State GED and other equivalency degrees (Tomorrow's Workers at Risk, Youth Subcommittee, California State Job Training Coordinating Council, Sacramento, 1985, pages 10-13.

23 Status Report-Education of Homeless Children and Youth Under the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, Department of Education, 1988, page 1.

24 Margie Lundstrom and Dale Maharidge, California's Homeless, The Sacramento Bee, March 15, 1989, page A11.

25 Status Report, op. cit., page 1

26 Changes in Corrections: 1986-87, Annual Report, California Department of Corrections, Sacramento, 1987, page 8. Education and Inmates Programs, Briefing, California Department of Corrections, Sacramento, October 1988.

27 Jail Population: 1988 Report to the Legislature, California Board of Corrections, Sacramento, 1988.

28 Education and Inmates Programs, op. cit.


***** Continued on "Ch.04c Needs Assessment" *****