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About the History of Adult Education in the US

The Adult Education Act (AEA) of 1966 was a major turning point in the history of adult basic education in the US.  It marked the beginning of federal government funding for adult basic education (defined as pre-high school) and for English as a second language education. The National Literacy Act (NLA) of 1991 was incorporated into the Adult Education Act.

Until the Department of Labor's 1998 Workforce Investment Act (WIA), adult education programs were in education legislation. WIA repealed the AEA and the NLA. The WIA Title II, Adult Education and Family Literacy Act of 1998 (AEFLA), provides funding for adult basic education to:

  1. "assist adults to become literate and obtain the knowledge and skills necessary for employment and self-sufficiency;
  2. "assist adults who are parents to obtain the educational skills necessary to become full partners in the educational development of their children; and
  3. "assist adults in the completion of a secondary school education."

See a 16-page side-by-side comparison table of the AEA as amended by the NLA with the WIA.

In 2014, WIA was replaced by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). States, including Rhode Island, are currently sorting out how to comply with the terms of the new law, which took effect on July 1, 2015.

Key references include:

Additional references:

Interesting figures in the history of adult education:

  • Ambrose Caliver


  • Samuel Halperin, "largely responsible for both the actual writing of the adult education section and its placement in the [Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.]" Ends or Means, p. 14.

  1. Washington Post obituary
  2. Guide for the Powerless and Those Who Don't Know Their Own Power: A Primer on the American Political Process, 2001.

  • Paul Delker, Director of the US Department of Education Division of Adult Education, 1967-1986.

  1. State of the Art in Adult Education, 1984.

  • Johan E. Uvin, current Acting Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical and Adult Education and former RI adult education director.

  1. Biography
  2. Reinventing Adult Education Presentation at ASCA (Association of California School Administrators), YouTube, 2011.