Archived Story

Adult Basic Education provides a step up

Published 9:10am Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Column: Guest Column, by Penny Jahnke

The mission of Adult Basic Education is to provide adults with educational opportunities to acquire and improve their literacy skills necessary to become self-sufficient and to participate effectively as productive workers, family members and citizens.

Penny Jahnke
Penny Jahnke

Adult Basic Education programs available include: General Educational Diploma, Adult Diploma, English as a Second Language, Basic Skills Enhancement, Family Literacy and Citizenship/Civics Education.

The top Adult Basic Education initiatives and priority programming areas in Minnesota are transition to employment and workforce education, transition to post-secondary education and training and distance learning. Distance learning allows Minnesotans statewide to access free GED preparation classes online.

To be eligible for ABE classes a person must be 16 and over, not enrolled in a secondary school and functioning below the 12th grade level in any of the basic academic areas including reading, math, writing and speaking English.

In 2012, there were 73,323 students enrolled in ABE classes in the state of Minnesota. Currently in Albert Lea, there are 132 students enrolled in Adult Basic Education classes. In 2012, Albert Lea ABE had 31 students receive their GED. Many of these students then went on to attend college or gain employment. Five local businesses have also been opened by former ABE students.

Due to the growing need for adult education services, state funding for Adult Basic Education has been revised frequently since 1998. Currently, state funds are provided to approved programs (46 consortia) using a mandated aid formula integrating school district population, LEP (limited English proficiency) counts, census no-diploma data, and prior year learner contact hours. Competitive grant funds (one-time appropriations) and ongoing federal ABE funds are also allocated.

Two percent of the annual state appropriation is authorized to support a system of “supplemental services” including staff development, technology, distance learning and special needs services. The total budget for ABE in Minnesota for the 2013 budget year was $52,593,811.

The need for Adult Basic Education classes in Minnesota will remain critical. According to the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census, 10 percent (388,074) of Minnesotans over 18 years old lack a high school equivalency. Minnesota’s immigrant and refugee population has expanded to record levels, especially Asian, Hispanic and African populations. One in 10 Minnesotans over 5 speak a language other than English in home. Of Minnesota’s 3.3 million working age adults, 60 percent have not completed college and are ABE potential clients. Of these adults:

• 251,210 have not completed high school.

• 892,744 have completed high school but have not entered college (most require remedial math or reading).

• 832,371 have some college but no degree or credential (48 percent need remedial math or reading).

• 61,327 speak “little or no” English.

• 346,968 earn less than a living wage (twice the federal poverty level).

(Source: Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, 2009)

The above facts and figures give you a small insight to Adult Basic Education in Minnesota and Albert Lea. However, the following story explains ABE better than any data or stats that I can provide. This story was written was by a former ABE/ELL student:

“I am a student from ABE and I am very happy to be part of this program. I came to the United States five years ago with my son, looking for a better life because in my country we were having a very difficult time. My husband came to the USA before us; I saw how my family was broken in parts. The day that I made the decision to come here was because, one day my son asked me for food and didn’t have the money to buy it.

“I arrived in the United States and I found many problems, but the very big problem was the language. English was a big barrier for me. I was afraid to go to the store or open the door in my apartment and find the landlord. What can I say to a man who I don’t know and doesn’t speak my language?

“One morning a lady knocked on my door, she was a friend of my husband, and she told me if I want to learn English she can show me where she goes to school, and the better thing that I hear was that my son can come with me and stay in the child care in this school. I am very grateful to have child care next to my classroom. My son was learning English at the same time that I was learning; now he is very successful at school because he learned English here in this program. Today I have another child who is in the child care, too. I am very proud of both because they are bilingual.

“I like to come every day to school, everything that I know is from ABE. I work very hard in each class. When I started in this school I was in the beginning level, now I am in the highest level and actually working on my GED because my dream is go to college and be a nurse and be an example for my family and community.

“I always tell to people that I meet to go to school and follow your dreams and don’t give up. Go to the ABE program because it is the best place where you can start and where your children can have the base for a very good education.”

This student received her GED in March 2013 and will be attending Riverland Community College this summer.

If you would like more information on Adult Basic Education, please call 379-4866 or visit us at Brookside Education Center.


Penny Jahnke is the Adult Basic Education coordinator with Community Education of Albert Lea Area Schools.