Published: 24-02-2011, 15:28

Adult education - American Education

A broad range of academic, vocational, professional and avocational courses of study designed for adults no longer attending formal school or college. Offered on site, on line or by mail by a wide variety of institutions, adult education may range from courses for hobbyists or for personal improvement to courses on nuclear physics, political theory or philosophy. In between these extremes are courses that teach arts and crafts, vocational, technical and professional skills and standard high school, college and graduate school courses. Some courses teach personal or family health, others political and social activism and others art or music appreciation.
Unlike Adult Basic Education, adult education assumes literacy and, depending on the particular offering, an elementary or even a high school education. Students can earn academic credit for some adult education courses and even certificates or diplomas, or they can simply take courses for the sake of learning. Usually offered on a part-time basis during nonoffice hours, adult education is available in many public schools, at two-year and four-year colleges, at universities, at proprietary trade schools and in museums, libraries and other public and private institutions. It is also available from associations and organizations, via television and radio, from correspondence schools and through individual instruction.
Some adult education falls under the category of continuing education, which usually consists of advanced courses designed for professional improvement at various times during midcareer. Some professions such as teaching require periodic continuing education to assure tenure or salary increases.
The growth in the number of students enrolled in adult education courses at colleges and universities soared during the last quarter of the 20th century, with the advent of distance learning via the Internet expanding the number of enrollees logarithmically. By the end of 2005, the number of adults over 25 enrolled in American colleges had tripled to between 45% and 50% of total student enrollment. Of the more than 17 million college and university students in America, more than 20% were 35 or older, 14.5% were between 40 and 50 and nearly 7% were older than 50. About 21% of all students over 35 were enrolled full time, with 30% enrolled in twoyear colleges, an equal number in four-year institutions and 40% enrolled in graduate schools. Women accounted for 52% of total enrollment. About 75% of all students were white. About 30% took work-related courses, 21% took personal-interest courses, and only 5% were studying to complete their post–high school degree programs. About 1% were enrolled in apprenticeship programs, and 1% were studying English as a second language. As for specific areas of study, nearly 25% of those enrolled took business and management courses (including computer math), and about 18% took courses in education. Humanities, health, and social and behavioral sciences were next in order of popularity.
Early 21st century adult education enrollment figures, however, did not—indeed, could not—take into account the increasing number of adults enrolling in the exploding distance learning industry via the Internet. Hundreds of educational institutions—public and private universities and colleges, along with for-profit PROPRIETARY SCHOOLS—tapped into the exploding $200-billion-a-year higher education market by delivering undergraduate- and graduate-level courses electronically to students of all ages around the world. The University of Phoenix, in Arizona, for example, saw its enrollment explode from about 2,500 students in 1973 to more than 200,000 by 2005, while the burgeoning number of for-profit colleges as a group claimed more than 1.5 million students, of whom 44% were over 25 and nearly 17% over 35. By 2000, more than 2,000 institutions of higher education across the United States, along with at least 1,200 private corporations, also offered an ever-expanding number of course offerings via the Internet.
(See also correspondence course; correspondence school; for-profit colleges.)