About 30 percent of American adults with household incomes that are at or below the poverty level do not have high school diplomas. That sobering figure comes from the National Coalition for Literacy, which is shining a spotlight on the issue for this week's National Adult Education and Family Literacy Week.
Hal Cohen, the executive director of Vermont Adult Learning, told VPR that Vermont has a literacy rate that's comparable with the rest of the nation.
"We're one of the top states in terms of the least amount of people who don't complete high school," Cohen said. "That said, we have an unbelievable number of Vermonters who have not completed high school."
He said nearly 42,000 Vermonters have not graduated from high school, 12,000 of which have not completed ninth grade.
"In a state our size you can imagine what kind of impact that can have on our economy, and just on quality of life," Cohen said.
Cohen said while there is a percentage of Vermonters who are illiterate, the larger group is one that doesn't have a completed high school education and "the essential skills necessary for better employment." He said having that high school diploma can be "a ticket out of poverty."
Luckily, Cohen said, Vermont has a network of providers to help people get beyond barriers that have held them back, such as disabilites, substance abuse or family obligations.
Vermont Adult Learning (VAL) has learning centers in 7 counties around the state. Cohen said VAL’s High School Completion Program, which allows people to receive a diploma from their local high school, had more than 380 graduates last year. That makes it, “in a sense, one of the bigger high schools in the state,” he said.
Cohen said there can be a stigma around not having a high school education, and that VAL focuses on making everyone feel welcome.
VAL also provides English Language Learner classes, which helps people learn English and prepare for the U.S. citizenship test.