Adult Basic Education

  • Description
  • Funding History
  • Proposals

Adult Basic Education (ABE) programs help adults improve their academic and work skills. Most programs are funded largely through competitive grants from the state, administered by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's office of Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS).

In a workforce that has become increasingly dependent on high-skilled labor, lacking a high school education and other basic skills makes it challenging to find good jobs that enable people to support themselves and their families. More than 1 in 10 Massachusetts residents over the age of 25 do not have a high school diploma. And even among those who do, many require higher level skills in order to succeed in college and the workplace.

There are several types of Adult Basic Education courses. One of the most common and in-demand ABE courses is English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). Across the state, ABE sites also offer preparation courses for the High School Equivalency Test (formerly the GED), and offer basic skills training in literacy and math. A portion of ABE funding also supports adult learners transitioning into post-secondary education. Current funding supports these transitional programs at eleven community colleges.

ABE is funded through a combination of state, federal and local dollars, along with grants from community organizations and several participating school districts. Individuals apply at various centers and if they meet the qualifications are eligible to take these courses free of charge. To apply, individuals must be over 16 and not currently enrolled in high school. In FY 2015, 19,200 adults were enrolled in ABE services.

While ABE programs are a vital support to adults with low basic skills, roughly half of those who tried to enroll in FY 2013 were unable to find a slot because of inadequate program funding. Waitlist times vary from 2 to 8 months and can be over 2 years for ESOL programs. The current waitlists contain over 14,000 individuals for ESOL, and over 2,000 for ABE.

Updated January 2017