Meeting the Needs of Adult Learners in the 21st Century

Sep 18th, 2017 | Category: Columns, Dissertation Spotlight
By Paul Marquardt

Editor’s note: The turn of the last century, from the 1900s to the 2000s, brought with it historic changes. One of those changes important to Concordia University Chicago was the beginning of doctoral programs at CUC. The Ed.D. was accredited in 1998, allowing Concordia to offer a doctoral degree in education leadership with a sub-specialty in early childhood education. The first Ed.D. at CUC was granted in 2002. Since that time we have added a dozen more specializations and the Ph.D., with the first Ph.D. degree granted in 2012 With this issue, I am beginning a new feature, the synopsis of a recently-defended dissertation by a newly-minted doctoral graduate. This synopsis is more than an abstract but less than a dissertation. If you want more than the “taste”we are offering here, you are welcome to find and enjoy the full dissertation at the address listed in the references. We welcome Paul Marquardt, Ph.D. 2016, as the initial contributor to this Dissertation Spotlight.

The past several decades (the later part of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century) have seen a decrease in the educational attainment levels of US workers (Committee for Economic Development, 2012; McKinsey & Company, 2009). The 21st century educational needs of the United States have outpaced the current supply of educationally skilled workers available. Today in the US the younger generation of workers is much more racially and ethnically diverse than in previous years. Additionally, ethnic and racially diverse groups are typically the most underserved groups by the K-12 and postsecondary education system (Bosworth, 2008, p. 74; McKinsey & Company, 2009). Changing population patterns have been apparent in the makeup of the working-age population cohort for some time. “Between 1980 and 2020, the proportion of minorities in the working age adult population (ages 25-64) is expected to increase from 18 to 38%. The increase in racial and ethnic diversity is even more evident in younger age cohorts” (Committee for Economic Development, 2012, p. 7). This shift in the ethnicity make-up of the working population in the US is graphically emphasized in Figure 1.

Despite an abundance of research literature on adult education, little is being accomplished in a collaborative and efficient manner at the local city and county levels. There is a lack of common agreement among adult education experts regarding what are the most critical needs for adult education in each specific community and how resources can be allocated to address these needs in order of importance.

Figure 1

The identification and prioritization of adult-education needs is challenging because of multiple perspectives, political agendas, and budget or turf battles for funding. It is important that the most critical adult-education needs within various local communities are identified systematically and without bias in order to provide the most effective and comprehensive programs. The purpose of this research study was to clearly identify the specific future educational needs of adults within the City of Santa Ana, California for the year 2025 according to experts’ opinions, and to also determine the degree of importance and feasibility of each identified need. Without this specific knowledge, limited resource allocation becomes a hit-or-miss situation which can vary depending upon the political agendas of the day.

Adult-education “experts” located in the local community should and can provide timely and accurate information focusing on the specific educational needs of the local adult population. If collected and synthesized, the information provided by adult-education leaders in the community can form the foundation for future strategic planning of resources and services that will help to build the local community’s economy and economic opportunities. Specific targeting of local resources and programs is a tremendous opportunity for a community to get a return on its investment in both economic and human capital through purposeful planning and allocation of resources (Parker & Spangenberg, 2014).

Research was conducted using The Delphi Method to assist in bringing consensus among 42 adult-education experts in the city of Santa Ana, California, as to the future educational needs that will be faced by adults within the community. The study and methodology were based upon a previous Delphi study done in California in 2006 by Kerr (2007). The findings of both studies identify English Language Literacy (ELL) and the need for basic high school education (General Education diplomas [GED]) as top educational priorities for adults. Findings from this research are presented in table format showing rank order of identified adult education needs by both importance and feasibility. Future research is suggested using ethnographic methodology to provide insight into why adult students do not fully take advantage of all

adult educational opportunities offered. LEJ


Bosworth, B. (2008). The crisis in adult education. Issues in Science & Technology, 24(4), 73-80.

Committee for Economic Development. (2012). Boosting postsecondary education performance: A statement by the Policy and Impact Committee of the Committee for Economic Development. Committee for Economic Development. Washington, DC

Kerr, D. S. (2007). Planning to meet the educational needs of California adults in 2015, a Delphi study (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text. (Order No. 304762381)

Marquardt, P. J. (2016). Educational needs of adults in Santa Ana, California in 2025: A Delphi study. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (Order No. 10250129).

McKinsey & Company (2009). The economic impact of the achievement gap in America’s schools. In McKinsey & Company, Social Sector Report. 5-22.

Parker, J., & Spangenberg, G. (2014). Invitation to a roundtable—A discussion of return-on-investment in adult education. New York: Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy.

Author Information

Paul Marquardt has worked in education for more than 25 years. His previous positions
include Lutheran elementary school teacher and principal, and college professor and assistant
dean at Concordia University Irvine. Dr. Marquardt holds a Master of Arts Degree in
Educational Administration and recently completed his Doctorate in Education with an
emphasis in Organizational Leadership at Concordia University Chicago. Currently he is
principal of Red Hill Lutheran School in Tustin, California. He can be reached via email at