Returning to Our Roots


Are you ready to give up on Adult Enrichment programs?

Neither am I!

But from an increasing number of colleagues, I hear a lot about the mounting pressures we face, and potential reasons for scaling back on time and attention devoted to developing adult enrichment programming. You’ve probably heard these generalizations, too:

  • Adult enrichment programs don’t generate the revenue that other community education programs generate

  • Adult enrichment programs aren’t chalking up participation numbers the way other community education programs can

  • We face increasing competition from for-profit fitness, wellness, academic and arts programs

  • It’s too difficult to find adult enrichment instructors

  • Adult enrichment programming is tired and stale, and it’s too difficult to come up with new classes and programs

Despite challenges like these, many of us who focus on adult enrichment are working hard to re-ignite the flame and passion for this field. We’re advocating for a renaissance, or a return to our roots. Think about the programs we commonly think of as the “roots” of community education: Benjamin Franklin’s “Junto,” Cora Wilson Stewart’s “Moonlight Schools” (designed to teach Kentucky adults how to read), African American Literary Societies, or Jane Addams’ Hull House (designed to provide social and educational opportunities for working class people, especially immigrants). All of them placed education and enrichment for adults front and center. That’s what made them strong. Visionaries like John Dewey, Clarence Perry, and Charles Stewart Mott envisioned “lighted” community schools not only as places to educate children, but—almost more importantly—as the crossroads and central meeting point of neighborhood social life, as agents of change and providers of neighborhood-based services.

Need more reasons to re-focus your attention on adult enrichment programming? Perhaps some cold, hard facts?

  • The Baby Boomer generation represents 44% of the current U.S. population, and by 2017 will control 70% of the disposable income in the U.S.

  • Adults vote! A Morris Leatherman Company survey of 16,700 randomly-selected Minnesota residents, conducted between 2013-2016, found that 75% of Community Education participants were likely to support a school district referendum for a $100 per year tax increase, compared to43% of all residents

  • LERN has studied the more intangible effects of informal adult education on communities, including the economic impact of adult enrichment programs. Hint: it’s very large.

ACE is a gathering place for dynamic professionals dedicated to the power of adult enrichment programming. At our bi-monthly meetings, we gather to learn from and support one another. This blog will highlight some of what we’re thinking, and is another space where we can share thoughts and ideas. Like our meetings, the more interactive, the more valuable this blog will be. We want to hear from you!

Your turn: Have you heard other reasons for giving up on adult enrichment programming? Do you have more reasons why it should remain front and center? (Please comment below.)

NOTE: the ideas expressed here are those of the individual bloggers, written on volunteer time, and do not necessarily reflect the ideas and positions of their employers.

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