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July 26, 2016

Shared Challenges: Many Adults Lack a High School Diploma

More than 1 of every 7 African-American Virginians and almost 1 in 5 foreign-born Virginians lack a high school diploma. With employers increasingly requiring a high school education just to get in the door, whether or not a diploma is truly required for the job duties, people who have not completed high school face significant challenges. When combined with the continued existence of employment discrimination, many adults in both African-American and immigrant communities face challenges finding jobs.

Various factors can influence high school graduation, but for many adults without high school diplomas, the underlying causes are subpar schools. When your school is chaotic and uninspiring due to a lack of resources, young people are more likely to drop out. On the other hand, for some immigrant adults who lack high school diplomas, the underlying causes are often unaffordable school fees or different educational structures in their country of origin. These varying causes present different challenges in terms of providing appropriate adult educational opportunities.

Virginia is, and should continue, making progress in strengthening adult education. To make sure hardworking Virginians are not shut out from jobs due to lack of a high school diploma or general equivalency degree (GED), a robust system for high school completion, obtaining a GED, and learning English needs to be available to all Virginians. The state is taking some promising steps towards doing this and connecting these programs to career pathways, allowing low-skilled youth and adults to combine work and education while obtaining in-demand post-secondary credentials. This approach will prepare and connect adult students to college and career planning, and both academic and basic workforce skills.

While these are promising steps, more can be done. It is important to make sure programs are designed in ways that can reach all Virginians, including those who may be discouraged by prior educational experiences in failing schools and those who may be new to the U.S. educational system. And when allocating resources for public schools, policymakers should make sure they provide adequate funding for programs serving adults.

This is the third in a series of blog posts based on The Commonwealth Institute’s recent report, We’re In This Together: African-American and Immigrant Communities Share Challenges, Policy Solutions. During July and August, we will be highlighting analysis and policy ideas from each section of the report. For more information about this report and its findings, please contact Laura Goren at


Laura Goren

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