Adult ed graduates try to save program

Meet with federal lawmakers, hoping to head off planned cuts

By Eric Swedlund


Ismet Osmani earned a degree in education before fleeing his native Kosovo for Tucson, where he was lost not knowing English.
Nora Gleason didn't speak a word of English when she arrived in Tucson from Mexico seven years ago.
David DeLeon was expelled from high school at 16 and spent eight years drifting, running into drugs, alcohol and even juvenile detention.
Each one was stuck and needed more education, and - like thousands of others every year - found his or her own way to Pima Community College Adult Education programs, learning to speak English or getting a high school equivalency diploma.
Now the success stories have become advocates, lobbying Arizona's congressional delegation while worrying whether federal budget cuts to adult education proposed by President Bush will become reality.
Bush's budget proposal for fiscal 2006 cuts two-thirds from the $569 million spent last year on adult education and eliminates the $225 million for the Even Start Family Literacy program. Earlier this month, the Senate adopted an amendment by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., that rejected the proposed cuts.
But if the cuts are approved, they will devastate adult education in the United States, cutting basic educational opportunities for the neediest people, said Greg Hart, dean of Pima Community College Adult Education.
"Adult education is typically characterized by people who make what I consider to be a very, very courageous effort to take advantage of an educational opportunity and make a difference in their lives," Hart said.
Adult education helps people who operate on the margins of society - dropouts, immigrants and refugees - nontraditional students who are all but invisible to policy-makers, Hart said.
"It doesn't make any sense to me to shut down access to basic educational opportunities to people who want it and need it," Hart said.
Pima College serves about 10,000 adult education students each year, at a cost of about $350 each. Bush's budget cuts would force Pima to limit adult education to about 2,000 students, Hart said. Students currently range in age from 16 to 76. About 800,000 people older than 16 in Arizona aren't enrolled in school and don't have a high school diploma.
Adult education includes English acquisition classes, classes geared to the General Educational Development diploma, basic literacy and basic education classes. It is open to anyone 16 or older who is not currently enrolled in school and has less than a high school education.
With Arizona's high dropout rate, a GED is the "only game in town" for thousands of students each year, Hart said. About 25 percent of the high school diplomas each year in the state are earned through GED programs, and as the AIMS test becomes a graduation requirement, that percentage is expected to increase.
A group of eight current and former Pima adult education students attended a conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.
DeLeon, 27, said the students met with lawmakers from Arizona to illustrate how essential adult education is to them.
"It took eight years before I realized how important education was to my future and the future of my family. At that point, adult education was there for me," DeLeon said. "It completely turned my life around and made a huge impact on my family."
A father of two young children, DeLeon is now an honors student in his second year at PCC, on the path to a computer engineering degree.
"Without that first initial step, I was lost," he said. "That step projected me on a whole different direction."
Adult education repeatedly has been targeted for cuts. In 2003, state legislators proposed eliminating funding to adult education, and Bush's federal budget last year had similar cuts to what he proposed this year.
Hart said adult education deserves continued support because most of its students are parents, and what they do is critically important for the education of their children.
Osmani, 34, arrived in Tucson three years ago, a well-educated refugee who knew almost no English.
"I can say for sure, adult education was like my first home in the U.S.," he said.
Gleason, 44, finished her English acquisition classes and now helps people who are in the same situation.
"What could we do if adult education was not accessible for us? We would be stuck," she said.
● Contact reporter Eric Swedlund at 573-4115 or at