Enrollment in adult education sees increase
YORK, Maine — It’s a Wednesday night and York High School students fill the classrooms.
They are adults who are returning to school to take computer and technology courses to beef up their job skills or to find a new career. Adult demand for General Education Diplomas and college degrees, as well as courses in Excel, Microsoft Office and other technology is increasing, according to Katie Schindler, director of York Adult Education.
“There’s a huge increase in demand across the state,” Schindler told the York Budget Committee earlier this month. “A lot of adults are lacking those skills essential to getting those 21st century jobs.”
“The enrichment program is definitely seeing an increase in technology and computer classes,” Schindler said. “They tend to fill up quickly.”
This past Wednesday, all chairs were taken for the sold-out iPad class taught by Bill Cutrer. Students interviewed said they signed up mostly for personal reasons, though Carol Graham-Beliveau said she needed to know how to use it for her job at York Hospital.
“I got this for Christmas,” she said. “I’ve been dabbling.”
Some York town employees also recently turned to using iPads over desktop and laptop computers.
As the need for knowledge grows, Schindler said she’s been going out into the local business community to ask employers what potential employees are lacking for skills.
“What is holding them back from being hired?” Schindler said is the question posed. “A lot of it is technology, and general customer-service skills.”
“When the economy is bad, adult ed always has an increase in enrollment,” said Cathy Newell, executive director of the Maine Adult Education Association. “Adult education’s role is to provide non-credit, non-expensive courses that provide the basics.”
The department’s Zumba class is the only other one to sell out, according to Schindler.
Newell has been involved in adult education since 1979, she said. Earlier recessions saw the decline of manufacturing jobs, she said. Many of those laid off hadn’t finished high school, she said. “In this recession,” she said, “it’s been a real range of educational levels and backgrounds.”
In Exeter, N.H., last week, new Hampshire Employment Security hosted a job fair in which 600 people — most of them unemployed or under-employed — showed up, according to Leslie Haslam, director of Exeter Adult Education.
“We talked about computer skills the most,” she said. “Some people we were seeing who were unemployed had never worked in an office setting before.”
Andrea St. Jean teaches Effective Resume Writing for Portsmouth Community Education. “Over the years I’ve seen more folks who are there for a career change or for people returning to work,” she said. “It’s affordable, in a group setting, with the support of peers.”
Adult education officials interviewed did not have hard numbers comparing enrollments this year to past years.
“We’re in the middle of the National Council of State Education doing a nationwide survey of how many local programs in each state have waiting lists. We’re about 10 days away from getting that information,” said Art Ellison, administrator of the Bureau of Adult Education in new Hampshire. “We do have waiting lists in the state every year.”
Among the programs seeing the most growth is English as a second Language, he said.
“Our issue around people who lose their jobs is that they’ve been in (the job) for some time and then the industry closes down or leaves,” he said. “Their skills may not be appropriate for the current job market.”
The Bureau for Adult Education serves people who haven’t finished high school, and the demand for a high school diploma is growing, he said.
“We served 8,000 adults last year; my guess is we’ll go higher this year,” he said.
Increasingly, adult educators are using their offices to offer more than a one-time computer course, or a GED or high school diploma.
“In the last two years, in career and college advising, we’re seeing an increased need for that as the economy is changing,” Schindler said.
Through a one-year grant, adult education programs in York, Wells-Ogunquit, Arundel and the Kennebunks have hired Susan White, a facilitator for College Opportunities & Successful Transitions.
“It’s for any community member who does not already have a two- or four-year degree,” said White, who offers individual coaching. she sees those who have been laid off, or have issues of transportation or child care that prevent them from pursuing education and job goals.
Newell said she often sees the need for career counseling amid adult education seekers.
“They’re laid off, they find their way to career centers and adult education, either they don’t know what they want to do or need career exploration,” she said. “People are interested in a health-care related job field because they read that’s what’s hot. clearly, computer skills are across the board. no one can get hired without knowing about them. Adult education prepares people to take that next step and be successful.”
York Adult & Community Education
Phone: (207) 363-7922
Exeter Adult Education
Portsmouth Community Education
Phone: 431-5080 ext. 444
Winnacunnet adult and community education
Web: www.winnacunnet.org and click on the link to Community Education
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