Adult Education History

Federal Adult Education–A Legislative History

Although federal legislation for adult education began in 1964, the Federal Government has been involved in adult education for over 230 years. While the nature and extent of federal attention to the needs of adult learners have varied over this period, the Government, from its earliest days, has provided funds to establish, encourage, and expand programs to assist adults in overcoming those educational deficiencies that would hinder their productivity and responsible participation in the life and growth of the nation.

State Involvement in Adult Education
State histories give evidence of organized adult education in the 18th century. Evening schools for adults, part-time education, citizenship/Americanization classes for the foreign-born, and the Chautauqua experience of 1874 were forerunners of the state/federal adult education movement. In a Council of Chief State School Officers publication in 1969, traces of the development of adult education since 1920 are recorded for many states. California’s history project (1995 and 2005) indicates that adult education classes were held in San Francisco in 1856 through the use of state public funds, and Massachusetts had continuing education and evening schools as early as 1842.