ERIC Identifier: ED333951
Publication Date: 1991-03-00
Author: Williams, Dana Nicole - Colby, Anita Y.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
The Community College Role in Achieving Adult Literacy.
In February 1990, President Bush and the nation's governors adopted
new goals for education, including the goal that:
"By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess
the skills necessary to compete in a global economy and to exercise the
rights and responsibilities of citizenship."
Within the overall national goal, five specific subgoals address various
forms and directions for adult literacy: strengthening the connections
between education and work; educating workers to adapt to changing technologies,
work methods, and markets; providing educational opportunities for part-time
and mid-career students; increasing the number of minority students who
successfully complete college programs; and increasing the proportion of
college graduates who can think critically, communicate effectively, and
solve problems in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.
During the past two decades, community colleges have played a significant
role in the promotion of adult literacy both on their campuses and within
their communities. Each of the national subgoals corresponds to an important
part of the community college mission.
In a number of areas, community college services and resources are a
precise fit with the needs of adult literacy training. "Some observers
believe that community colleges are the best bet for long-term growth of
the basic skills field, because those institutions already have a diversity
of resources, a long track record of working with business and government
on training issues, and usually, strong support from state and local governments.
They also allow the learner to avoid the stigma of 'going back to school'
and provide a ready vehicle for transition from basic skills training to
training and certification in specialized fields." (Chisman, 1989, p. 12)
The following are a sample of reports on the ways that community colleges
are involved in literacy services.
COLLEGE LITERACY PROGRAMS
The Maricopa Community College District in Phoenix, Arizona, has adopted
a coordinative approach to literacy education (Stevens and Piland, 1987).
The district has initiated a joint effort with a volunteer committee of
the Public Relations Society of America, the Arizona Department of Education,
and the Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County. Volunteers teach functionally
illiterate adults to read and write at no charge, and offer an 18-hour
training workshop for individual tutors. The Maricopa District has organized
a volunteer recruitment drive among students and faculty to address the
program's two major problems: too few volunteers and not enough money.
Project LIFE at South Plains College in Lubbock, Texas also involves
a coalition of community agencies (South Plains College, 1988). The project's
objectives are to increase public awareness of the complexities and problems
of adult illiteracy, while promoting literacy as a value within the community.
Combining the resources of the major literacy providers in the area, Project
LIFE provides literacy training and prevocational workshops to enhance
employability and career adaptability.
The direct provision of instruction in reading and writing is not the
only way that community colleges are involved in literacy development.
Other activities, many of which relate to the national goals and subgoals,
include the following.
Coordination of Activities. The delivery of literacy services is a multifaceted
effort, including "public school systems, community organizations, storefront
operations, corporate training classes, proprietary institutions, volunteer
tutoring programs and every possible variation of these and other service-delivery
modes." (Chisman, 1989, p. 12) Some feel that the most appropriate role
for community colleges is serving as a "nexus" or connecting agency, working
with these groups to develop broad-based community-wide efforts (Stevens
and Piland, 1987).
Tutor and Instructor Training. Most of the teaching force in the field
of adult literacy training is comprised of volunteers and K-12 teachers
working part-time. For the most part, the school teachers have received
little training in appropriate pedagogies for adult students and the volunteers
have received little training at all.
The Literacy Education Action (LEA) program at El Paso Community College
began as an independent program and has since evolved into a network of
community literacy groups (Clymer, 1989). LEA recruits and trains volunteer
tutors and uses a language experience approach to provide assistance to
native English speakers, Spanish-speakers, and bilingual students.
Post-Literacy. Most community college literacy services are not designed
for adults reading at the lowest levels. Instead they focus on raising
students' skill levels to the point at which they can obtain a GED certificate
or enter college-level courses. Depending on students' skill levels at
entry, progress can take hundreds of hours of instruction and practice
During this period, community colleges must bring all of their expertise
in remedial instruction and student retention to bear on ensuring steady
progress and forestalling student frustration and withdrawal. Chisman (1989,
p. 15) advocates an adult literacy delivery system "that will accept any
adult at any level of skills and move him or her along a continuum to at
least the level of basic skills required to function effectively on the
job and in everyday life, today and in the decades to come."
Services for Learning Disabled Students. A study by Keefe and Meyer
(1988) of adults in basic education programs found that more than 75% of
those adults reading below the level of the average 8-year-old have diagnosed
learning disabilities and close to 90% have uncorrectable vision problems.
Existing community college programs for LD students can accommodate many
adults who have obtained some measure of literacy through other venues,
as well as providing diagnostic testing.
Workplace Literacy. Several of the national literacy goals focus on
technological literacy and workforce productivity. Community colleges have
long been involved in providing customized job training for local businesses.
Many colleges and businesses are building upon these contacts so that basic
skills training for workers may be provided by community colleges on a
contract basis. (Chisman, 1988).
Computer-Assisted Instruction. Computers are pervasive throughout the
educational system, and certainly within community colleges. According
to Askov and Clark (1991) computers have the following advantages for adult
literacy instruction: privacy, individualization, better than average achievement
gains, cost-effectiveness, student control of learning, flexibility in
scheduling, open-entry/open-exit operations, and transferability of familiarity
with computers into various work settings. Many of the disadvantages noted
by Askov and Clark, such as lack of staff expertise and training, are not
applicable to community colleges which tend to have prior experience with
this form of instruction.
The Center for Advancing Technology at Piedmont Community College in
North Carolina has developed a computer-based model for rural, adult education
(Bailey and Rentz, 1989). The Center has established an adult computer
lab, offering orientation, instruction, drilling, testing, and learning
The field of adult literacy has been negatively affected by the lack
of meaningful program evaluations at state, institutional and program levels.
As Chisman notes, "the lack of adequate measurement tools also means that
we have only very crude ways to assess the abilities or progress of individual
learners, to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, or to measure the
progress of the nation as a whole toward national goals." Padak and Padak
(1991, p. 374) cite three recent surveys which indicate that "evaluations
are either seldom undertaken or are reported in ways that make meaningful
interpretation difficult." Community colleges can make a major contribution
to the field of adult literacy by conducting program evaluations that will
answer important questions about program participants, such as the length
of time they persist, the amount of in-class and out-of-class time they
devote to learning, and the number of people who are actually learning
according to specific attainable measures.
Padak and Padak's model for program evaluation includes variables related
to the personal and academic growth of program participants and the value
added to the quality of their lives. The model also identifies program
characteristics to be considered in the evaluation, including personnel
qualifications, collaborative networks, student-teacher relations, and
program content. The remaining components of the model relate to external
factors, such as financial gains afforded participants, returns on investment,
and rate of participation.
Community colleges are in an ideal position to play a significant role
in combating the nation's literacy problem. To do so, however, will require
additional leadership and funding from state and federal sources; the recruitment
and training of faculty to work with students reading below the fifth-grade
level; the provision of transportation, child care, textbooks, and other
services to overcome the barriers to education faced by many illiterate
adults; and a more flexible manner of delivering instruction that allows
students to progress at their own pace (Stevens and Piland, 1987). Even
without meeting all of these conditions, community colleges can have an
impact on literacy in their communities by joining forces with other agencies,
institutions, and groups.
Askov, Eunice N.; Clark, Cindy Jo. "Using Computers in Adult Literacy
Instruction." Journal of Reading; v36 n4 p434-437 March 1991.
Bailey, Charles; Rentz, William D. The Center for Advancing Technology
Succeeds with New Literacy Program. Yancyville, NC: Center for Advancing
Technology, Piedmont Community College, 1989. 9pp. (ED 311 948)
Chisman, Forrest P. Jump Start: The Federal Role in Adult Literacy:
Final Report on The Project on Adult Literacy. Southport, Conn.: Southport
Institute for Policy Analysis, 1989. 47pp. (ED 302 675)
Clymer, Carol. "Literacy Education Action." Unpublished manuscript,
1989. 8pp. (ED 316 058)
Keefe, Donald; Meyer, Valerie. "Profiles of and Instructional Strategies
of Adult Disabled Readers." Journal of Reading; v31 n7 p614-619 April 1988.
Mikulecky, Larry. "National Adult Literacy and Lifelong Learning Goals."
Phi Delta Kappan; v72 n4 p304-309 December 1990.
Padak, Nancy D.; Padak, Gary M. "What Works: Adult Literacy Program
Evaluation." Journal of Reading; v34 n5 p374-379 February 1991.
South Plains College. LIFE: Literacy is for Everyone. Final Report.
Lubbock, Tex.: Author, 1988. 150pp. (ED 298 335)
Stevens, Larry P.; Piland, William E. "Adult Illiteracy and the Role
of the Community College." Community College Review; v15 n3 p48-54 Winter