The Benefits of Adult Education
The journey to adulthood is not always a straight and rigid path. Although increasingly mandatory for more entry-level jobs than ever before, a bachelor’s degree has never been a prerequisite to entering adult life, and that’s still true today. Not everyone goes to a four-year university or a two-year college. Not everyone graduates high school. That’s all okay; there’s no one right way to begin a career, and higher education has always, frankly, been an institution designed to create exclusivity amongst those who can afford it. It’s a luxury and should be treated as such (even if it often isn’t).
But the pursuit of education is never wrong, and adults shouldn’t stop learning just because they reach their 20s. Whether it’s greater competency with a language, job expertise, or basic life skills, adult education classes are a great option to keep your mind sharp and develop new skill sets, no matter what level of education you were provided by the time you reached your independent adulthood.
Defining Adult Education
Adult education courses are targeted towards the 21+ crowd, most of whom have already, presumably, entered the workforce. The schedule for learning accommodates the student’s work hours to give them the opportunity to develop new skills while maintaining a fulltime job. The goal of most adult education is to improve career prospects, but the effects of learning for mature students are multiple and widespread.
The Difference in Your Daily Life
I’ve taken my fair share of adult education classes, and while I’ve done it mostly for fun and to explore skills that I never had a formal education in, the fact remains that I’m just much more competent in my everyday life thanks to these new skills.
I was interested in costuming, so I took a course on sewing. Now, not only can I make my own clothes, but I also know how to repair and update old pieces. I’ve saved a ton of money by rejuvenating old apparel rather than throwing it out and buying something new.
I was interested in making a banging cocktail, so I took a bartending course. In addition to tasty drinks, I learned a ton about flavor combinations in general. My new skills in drink-making have crossed over into my ability to cook tasty meals for myself regularly.
I learned how to build a bookcase, snake a toilet, and crochet a sweater--all from adult education courses. The continued learning I’ve completed and still pursue has made me a more competent and independent person in every facet of my life.
Pursuing Your Dream--Even if it Changes
When I graduated college, I wanted to go into publishing. I was convinced that my destiny was to be a big-name book editor. I spent my entire college career preparing for this path, and as soon as I could enter the workforce, I got a position as an Editorial Assistant with one of the Big Five publishers.
I lasted two and a half years, and at the end of it, I never wanted to look at a book again. (I have since gotten past that feeling, but it was rough going for a while.)
When I left publishing, I felt at a loss. What was I supposed to do? I had trained my whole life for this one career; I didn’t have the skills for anything else!
But I could get them, and easily, too. Not only that, I would be supported along the way. Many adult education courses not only teach their students how to perform better in new job roles, they also help place students in positions once their coursework is complete. (My bartending course, for example, would have found me a starting gig if I had been interested in pursuing it as a career.)
Frequently, job postings will list requirements that include a four-year degree in a specific area, or “equivalent experience.” Adult education courses can offer that equivalent experience, for a fraction of the time and cost, and with greater assistance once the class is finished.
Breaking Generational Cycles
Despite more and more entry-level demands for a four-year degree, higher education remains a luxury that excludes millions at the lower ends of the social and class spectrums. You may not realize it, but levels of learning are often inherited in ways we don’t even think about. A study from 2003 concluded, for example, that working-class families are far more likely to prepare their children to enter the workforce performing similar blue-collar work as soon as possible, rather than pursuing a higher education that may open up more career options for them further down the line.
If for whatever reason, you were unable to pursue higher education in the past, adult education can help close the gap in opportunities for yourself and your family and those who have an undergraduate degree or higher.
According to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, a single year of adult education for a parent more positively affects the chances of their children attending a postsecondary education institution than $50,000 would. Adults who continue to educate themselves as mature students demonstrate the importance of ongoing learning and are more likely to pass that prioritization down to their children, giving them more opportunities for growth and success.
A Better Self-Image
Becoming more competent makes you more confident. A study from 2017 noted that empowerment is both the general purpose of adult education as well as the desired outcome of the learning process. Regardless of the (steadily declining) belief that a GED or associate’s degree represents a “lesser” education than the traditional four-year college track, the study found that mature students with these new skills were happier and more self-assured after completing their coursework than when they began.
Educating yourself is a great way to feel more confident. The more you know how to do on your own, the better you’re going to feel about your ability to be live independently and on your own terms. This will reflect not only on how you think of yourself, but on how others perceive you as well.
When you continue to educate yourself into adulthood, you are making a commitment to being informed and able to contribute to society. Friends, family, and colleagues may see you with newfound respect, and your confidence and capability can help you stand out in a crowd.
A Healthier Body
The most common form of adult education is the improvement of literacy skills, and for over a decade, research has linked poor literacy to poor health. Health literacy--where literacy skills and health status intersect--is rooted in educational research into literacy, concepts of adult learning, and health promotion. Healthcare providers are taking note of ways to invest in adult education for their patients, and in doing so, “promote a more sophisticated understanding of the process of health communication in both clinical and community settings.”
According to research performed by healthcare providers, adult education maintains health in its practitioners and contributes to longer and better lives. It combats aging, loneliness, and associated symptoms and diseases, like dementia. The health benefits of adult education ultimately have the added benefit of saving the NHS money treating patients who would have ended up with much more serious diagnoses had they not persisted with adult education as mature students.
Adult education can keep you entertained and full of vigor. What’s not to love?
You’re Never Too Old
There’s no time like the present to follow through on learning something new. Start with something you’ve always been interested in, but never had the chance to explore. Many institutions offer classes for free, and have huge catalogs--the city of New York, for example, has over 800 courses available at no cost!
Get SCUBA certified. Learn how to build your own computer. Finish training as a nurse. The possibilities out there are truly endless. Educate yourself nonstop. We have so little time, and so much to learn.
 Archer, Louise, et al. Higher Education and Social Class: Issues of Exclusion and Inclusion. Routledge, 2007.
 “Secondary, Career, and Technical Education: Professional Development Opportunities.” PsycEXTRA Dataset, 2004, doi:10.1037/e370782004-007.
 Connell, R. W. “Working-Class Families and the New Secondary Education.” Australian Journal of Education, vol. 47, no. 3, 2003, pp. 235–250., doi:10.1177/000494410304700304.
 “HEQCONews // .” Http://Www.heqco.ca, www.heqco.ca/en-ca/About Us/News Releases/Lists/HEQCONews/DispForm.aspx?ID=19&ContentTypeId=0x0100BE8A6B605EEEF2498D77DD7FC10C22F5.
 Koulaouzides, George A. “Critical Reflection and Empowerment in Adult Education Practice.” Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Southeastern Europe, 2017, pp. 17–26., doi:10.1007/978-94-6351-173-5_2.
 Nutbeam, Don. “The Evolving Concept of Health Literacy.” Social Science & Medicine, vol. 67, no. 12, 2008, pp. 2072–2078., doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2008.09.050.