ERIC Identifier: ED438874
Publication Date: 1999-11-00
Author: Gomez, Gigi
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Community Colleges Los Angeles CA.
Community College Adult Literacy Programs: Moving toward
Collaboration. ERIC Digest.
In 1989, the National Education Goals Panel (NEGP) created goals to help
measure the educational progress of the United States. One of the goals
addressed adult literacy: "By the year 2000, every adult American will be
literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a
global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship"
(National Institute for Literacy, p.1). Unfortunately, there are few days left
in 1999, and the many forms of illiteracy are still a long-standing social
problem in America. According to the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (U.S.
Congress, 1993), about 21 percent of the adult population over the age of 16 had
only rudimentary reading and writing skills. These include those who slipped
through the cracks of formal education and did not learn the basic reading,
writing, or math skills. Also, the foreign-born who come to work, study, and/or
live in the U.S. do not have the necessary speaking or writing skills to
communicate effectively in English. In addition, in an era of advanced
technology, the common worker may be unqualified or unskilled to work with
With these many forms of illiteracy plaguing the United States, community
colleges and other literacy organizations continue to find innovative means and
strategies to improve adult literacy. This digest will present several
definitions of literacy, describe successful programs, and examine collaborative
efforts between community colleges and other agencies to fortify adult literacy
WHAT IS LITERACY?
The National Adult Literacy Survey has
defined a literate person as one who uses "printed and written information to
function in society, to achieve one's goals, and to develop one's knowledge and
potential" (U.S. Congress, 1993, pp. 3-4).
Functional literacy "refers to the application of those basic skills to one's
social, community, and working environment" (Literacy, 1994, p. 9). The ability
to learn, think critically, and make decisions as well as skills for family
life, scientific and technological skills, and workplace skills are all
important dimensions of literacy. Literacy means more than simply knowing how to
read; it also means having the necessary mathematical and verbal skills to be a
functional and productive citizen.
However, attaining literacy depends on each individual's goals and potential.
The Office of Technological Assessment (OTA) states that "there is no absolute
threshold of skill or competency above which people can be certified as literate
and below which they can be said to have a literacy problem" (pp. 39). Some
students would like to be able to read a bedtime story to their children. Others
may want to be able to read directions on their prescription bottles, street
signs, or menus. Perhaps students would like to learn new work skills that will
advance their positions or careers. Being literate does not mean acquiring a
fixed number of skills and knowledge at a certain point in time, but rather
accumulating the necessary skills and knowledge to be functional in one's
Adult literacy programs have been
affected by the implementation of Title II of the Workforce Investment Act
(1998), also known as the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act. This
legislation, an amendment of the Adult Education Act, attempts to centralize
efforts and funding in order to hold local programs, and the state and federal
governments accountable to each other and the public. The three main objectives
of this new act are:
1. To help adults become literate and gain the skills needed for employment
2. To assist parents in obtaining skills in order to be active participants
in their children's educational development; and
3. To help adults complete a secondary education. (Workforce Investment Act
Many of the already established literacy services can help to actualize these
objectives. Adult Basic Education assists students whose skills are below the
eighth-grade level. Students who are at the high school level and want to obtain
a high school equivalency diploma either by passing course work or attaining
general education development (GED) certification can enroll in Adult Secondary
Education. English as a Second Language (ESL) programs help the non-English
speaker who has limited English proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking.
Family literacy services attempt to reinforce and enhance learning for both
parents and children by reading and learning together. There are also literacy
programs designed for individuals with physical and/or learning disabilities and
individuals who are incarcerated. For those finding their job skills obsolete
due to technology and globalization, workplace literacy helps current and
potential employees learn occupational skills.
MOVING TOWARD COLLABORATION FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Collaboration in providing services can offer efficiency among the available
adult literacy programs. Johnson and Hartman (1998) have found that adult
literacy services generally involve the following organizations: local education
agencies (60 percent), community colleges (15 percent), community-based
organizations (14 percent), public and private non-profits (7 percent) and
correctional facilities (4 percent). What would it take for these organizations
to collaborate for the common good?
Irwin, Gordon, and Lindroth (1994) offer several principles for successful
1. "All literacy education providers must recognize that no one agency or
educational design will successfully address all of the community's adult
2. All providers must be convinced that the benefits of cooperation are
greater than the cost of participation;
3. Each organization must understand that the vested interest of all other
members of the coalition are as valid as their own vested interest; and
4. There must be agreement on how funding sources will be pursued and used."
Irwin, Gordon, and Lindroth report that the Job Centers in Wisconsin are
effective means of addressing adult literacy because they centralize and
coordinate instruction, education, employment, and training services that are
available through partnering organizations. For instance, the Job Centers
recognize and take advantage of the fact that the Tech Colleges' strengths lie
in teaching occupational and basic skills training through classroom and
computer instruction. Thus, these Job Centers refer their students to the
best-equipped and appropriate organization in an efficient manner.
Another example of collaboration occurs at Del Mar College, Texas. The
college has experienced a decline in certificates and degrees awarded because
students need more remedial work. As a result, the time for degree completion
has increased and graduation rates have decreased. In response to this problem,
the college decided to contract with the Corpus Christi Literacy Council and the
Corpus Christi/Nueces County Workforce Development Corporation to provide
instruction for GED, ESL, and basic literacy skills. Through computer-assisted
learning centers and classroom instruction, literacy for dropouts and at-risk
students was enhanced (Flores, A., Snouffer, & Flores, J., p.20).
Collaborations between companies and community colleges have been successful
as well. Peavey Electronics discovered that its employees' lack of necessary
workplace skills slowed production. The company went to Meridian Community
College (MCC) for assistance in upgrading its workers' skills. MCC agreed to
collaborate, ensuring that the college and the company remained "viable and
productive contributors to the local community and state" (Willis, 1994, p.32).
Positive outcomes resulted from the training: Peavey had an increase in business
productivity of 2.1 percent in overall quality, which was sizeable in terms of
dollar amount; employee absenteeism and grievances decreased; and critical
thinking was exhibited in employees' thoughtful suggestions on how to reduce
costs and wastes.
Bishop (1993) states that program marketing can be done through college
employees who are involved or associated with local organizations (i.e.
churches, fraternal organizations, cultural organizations, and civic groups).
This method has been productive for Carteret Community College, which is located
in a rural community whose residents do not have access to television
advertisements about its adult literacy programs. The recruitment of nonreaders
into adult basic education or literacy programs is highly dependent on verbal,
face-to-face communications initiated by the college's faculty and staff
(Bishop, 1993). Four months after a meeting with local community leaders, the
college witnessed a 9 percent enrollment increase in adult literacy programs.
Instead of competing against each other,
community colleges and other community and business organizations can reposition
themselves by pooling their strengths to combat illiteracy in adults. Although
illiteracy will not be eradicated by the year 2000, as set forth by the National
Education Goals Panel, collaboration can be an important step toward attaining
nationwide adult literacy for the twenty-first century.
Bishop, J. (1993). Organizational linkages of
the community college and recruitment in literacy programs. Community College
Review, 20 (5), 23-28. (EJ 462 970)
Flores, A., Snouffer, N. K., & Flores, J. F. (1993). Developing
partnerships for adult literacy training: College/community cooperation. Corpus
Christi Literacy Council, TX. Paper presented at the Annual International
Conference of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development on
Teaching Excellence and Conference of Administrators Austin, TX. (ED 362 227).
Irwin, M., Gordon, J., & Lindroth, W. (1994). A collaborative model for
providing literacy training utilizing the "one-stop shop" concept. (ED 376 896)
Literacy in motion: A guide to inclusive literacy education. (1994). North
York, Ontario: Roeher Institute. (ED 404 518)
National Institute for Literacy & the National Education Goals Panel.
(1993). Adult leaner perspectives on national education goal 5 guidelines.
Durham, NC: Literacy South.
Johnson, A. & Hartman, A. (1998). Adult education and literacy public
policy: What it is and how it is shaped. In Smith, M. C. (Ed.), Literacy for the
twenty-first century. Research, policy, practices, and the national adult
literacy survey (pp. 29-36). Westport, CT: Praeger.
U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. (July 1993). Adult literacy
and new technologies: Tools for a lifetime (OTA-SET-550). Washington, DC: U.S.
Government Printing Office. (ED 361 473)
Willis, J. J. (1994). The meridian partnership: A model workplace literacy
project and development unit. Meridian Community College, MS; Peavey Electronics
Corporation, Meridian, MS. (ED 369 429)
Workforce Investment Act of 1998. (1998). [On-line]. Available: