COABE’s mission is to inspire educators so adults succeed and communities thrive. We provide leadership, professional development, advocacy, and communication services that encourage greater consciousness and cultural competency in our interactions with teachers, administrators, adult learners, and our partners. We are committed to using our platform and influence to celebrate, engage with, and listen to all adult education communities and diverse voices of our field.
The Coalition on Adult Basic Education (COABE) understands that adult educators are on the front lines, serving marginalized communities, and are often firsthand witnesses to the digital divide that engulfs many of our adult learners.

According to the brief published by the National Association for the State Directors of Adult Education1, for the past 20 years the majority of adult education students have been students of color. In 2019, people of color were 78 percent of adult education enrollments. The barriers to education and employment that adult education students face are significant: in 2019, 23 percent self-identified as low-income, eight percent as single parents, four percent as having a disability, nearly seven percent as ex-offenders, and five percent as long-term unemployed. Students who were enrolled to learn English made up half of the national enrollment in 2019. Ten percent of the total enrollment were served in correctional facilities. In the longstanding conversation about the digital divide, our students and their families are among those most in need of solutions. The lack of available and affordable computer devices and high-speed internet is severely hampering adult students’ and their families’ ability to engage with remote instruction, access government and health services, and build necessary digital skills to participate in our nation’s economic rebuilding efforts.

Promoting digital equity has been an important component of COABE's work over the last five years, however our organization has also promoted many of other forms of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) including prison literacy, racial equity, immigrant integration, support for learning differences, and student empowerment.

Our strategies have included:
  • holding webinars led by expert presenters.
  • providing dedicated digital equity, prison literacy, students as leaders, ability to benefit, and support for learning differences conference strands.
  • publishing resources.
  • distributing communications.
  • advocating for additional funding for each of these important areas.

Select executive board members and COABE’s CEO attended a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion seminar for C-suite employees and volunteer board members entitled “Creating a Skilled Board With a Racial Equity Lens” on February 26th, 2021. The focus of the session was to provide board members with tools and implementation practices to champion racial equity.

The COABE Board of Directors created a DEI task force to discuss potential training and offerings for the field. Board members continue to participate in and support DEI training and initiatives at the local, state, and national level. Click here to view a short list of contributions by our board members to DEI efforts.

COABE’s CEO participated in an invitational round table hosted by OCTAE on April 15th, 2021, to discuss insights into the challenges adult education faced due to the pandemic, with a lens toward how to improve equity, access, and affordability for all education programs.

COABE’s CEO attended the Joint Action Meeting on April 14th, 2021, hosted by the XPrize Racial Equity Alliance, entitled Equity and Belonging in the Workplace, which focused on the following topics: 
  • Eliminating Hiring Bias and Discriminatory Practices and Behaviors in the Workplace
  • Executive Leadership and Board Accountability 
  • Enhancing Transparency and Ending Algorithmic and Data Bias

COABE’s CEO serves as an advisory member of the National Governors Association’s State Equitable Recovery Coalition that meets monthly and promotes DEI. Sharon also presented to the National Governors Association’s Reskilling Network about Adult Education, including the DEI issues that our adult learners often face. The presentation was led by COABE in partnership with a local provider, Pima Community College, and the National Association of the State Directors of Adult Education (NASDAE). You can view the presentation here with Passcode: !jUFw3yL

COABE’s CEO serves on the US Chamber of Commerce Equality of Opportunity Initiative Task Force. In this role, Sharon served as an advisory member of the Talent Pipeline Management Opportunity Populations Review Committee which released a resource guide to connect opportunity populations talent to better career pathways. Sharon also meets quarterly with the Equality of Opportunity Task Force to reflect on accomplishments and outline the key priorities for the year ahead. Policy leaders in the six main pillars discuss the opportunities and challenges that are faced in education, employment, entrepreneurship, criminal justice, health, and wealth disparity, as well as access to capital, supplier diversity, and innovation. 


COABE participated in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) RFI process in response to OMB’s request for information regarding methods and leading practices for advancing equity and support for underserved communities through government. COABE recommended that OMB prioritize adult learners, educators, and programs in its push to promote equity in agency policies and actions. In the letter, which can be found here, COABE asked that flexibilities for adult education programs be extended through Program Year 21. We also asked that ED pilot new assessment and accountability systems to advance equity, in conjunction with partnerships between ED, Labor, Justice, HHS, and other agencies that can support adult learners and their families, particularly through communication and awareness of Ability to Benefit (ATB). Additionally, we asked that adult learners, educators, and national organizations such as COABE be included in agency and White House conversations as well as state and local decision-making tables. 

COABE shared the comments that our organization submitted during the official comment period on Digital Equity and also drafted a template for members to use and encouraged members to provide input as well.

COABE also encouraged input from the field on ATB during OCTAE’s comment period, understanding that ATB removes the obstacles for colleges to help adult learners to access the necessary funding to get their GED and enroll in college.

National Conferences
2020 Virtual
2021 Virtual
2022 Hybrid
COABE National Conferences

The COABE national conferences provide a venue for adult educators, administrators, and learners to come together for professional development and networking opportunities. Our conferences have entire strands dedicated to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Racial Equity Sessions at COABE National Conferences (List of sessions)
2020- 11 sessions virtually
2021- 31 sessions virtually
2022- 23 sessions hybrid format

Immigrant Integration Sessions at COABE National Conferences (List of Sessions)
2020- 52 sessions virtually
2021- 41 sessions virtually
2022- 43 sessions hybrid format

Learning Differences Sessions at COABE National Conferences (List of Sessions)
2020- 10 sessions virtually
2021- 4 sessions virtually
2022- 5 sessions hybrid format

Prison Literacy Sessions at COABE National Conferences (List of Sessions)
2020- 14 sessions virtually
2021- 17 sessions virtually
2022- 21 sessions hybrid format

Digital Equity Sessions at COABE National Conferences (List of Sessions)
2020- 38 sessions virtually
2021- 54 sessions virtually
2022- 52 sessions hybrid format

Students as Leaders (List of Sessions)
2020- 14 sessions virtually
2021- 8 sessions virtually
2022- 12 sessions virtually

Ability to Benefit (List of Sessions)
2021- 4 sessions virtually

In light of Black History Month, in 2021 COABE hosted webinars on Friday, February 19th, and Tuesday, February 23rd, featuring authors from the "Racial Equity and Immigrant Integration" edition of the COABE Journal. These webinars focused on the themes from the journal contributions to enlighten adult education professionals on programs and practices focusing on racial equity and access to education programs.

Dr. Carmine Stewart and Cherise Moore

Erin Cary, Jen Vanek, Daquanna Harrison

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, over half of respondents to a national Gallup poll reported not having a quality job, and respondents’ job quality had a strong influence on their quality of life. Decades of stagnant wages, eroding benefits, and declining employment security have left millions of Americans in unstable jobs. Structural inequality has placed a disproportionate burden on workers of color and women, and in turn the economic fragility of these workers’ households has left them bearing overwhelming burdens in the midst of our current health and economic crises. Organizations that educate workers and refer them to jobs are looking for new tools, approaches, and connections as they seek to address the growing challenge of job quality.

The Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program developed the Job Quality Tools Library to provide actionable tools to help leaders adopt practices to strengthen job quality in their own organizations, in the businesses they work with, and in local labor markets. In this session, Aspen Institute introduced the library, including sharing why and how it was developed, explained how to navigate it, and provided guidance about how to use it to strengthen jobs and racial equity for adult learners. The webinar focused on tools and approaches that could be put to work immediately in response to the current crisis.
Equity in Adult Education: The Importance of Cultural Competence and Inclusion, Sudie Whalen

This webinar focused on the importance of cultural competence and inclusion in adult education, defined and discussed cultural competency, and the various points included in the Cultural Competency Continuum. The webinar provided actionable steps teachers, administrators, and support staff can take to support a culturally competent and inclusive learning environment for students.

During the webinar, participants were introduced to the six points on the cultural competence continuum: cultural destructiveness, cultural incapacity, cultural blindness, cultural pre-competence, cultural competence, and cultural proficiency. Additionally, participants were introduced to concepts that impact cultural competence, such as implicit bias, micro aggressions, and inclusion during the webinar. Participants left the webinar with tools and actionable steps to improve equity on both an individual and programmatic level.
Equity, not Equality: Practical Racial Justice Strategies To Increase Awareness, Veronica Parker

Current research tells us that when the learning environments are adjusted to students' specific backgrounds, the learning outcomes are increased. At times, adult education may have used a one-size-fits-all approach, but has that been working? This session explored opportunities to increase racial justice awareness as well as an open space for brainstorming, collaborating, and inspiration to adapt learning environments to enhance adult student achievement, with an emphasis on learners from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.
Intersect 2021 was a virtual symposium where educators and workforce professionals connected to learn how to prepare students and workers for the demands of business amid the ever-changing pandemic environment. Attendees heard from industry and education experts that helped shift collaborative approaches in upskilling the workforce of today and tomorrow to achieve economic recovery and an equitable workforce.
Walter L.G. Simmons, President & CEO, Employ Prince George’s, Inc.
Brian Walsh, Unlocking Potential Initiative, Vera Institute of Justice
Julia Trujillo Luengo, Office of Economic Opportunity, City of Portland
Moderated by Rachel Hirsch, National Governors Association

The workforce system serves individuals of diverse ages, races/ethnicities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, and with a variety of prior life experiences. This panel of national experts shared their perspectives on how to ensure diverse populations are equitably successful in accessing training, upskilling, and securing employment in family-sustaining career pathways.
Terry Liggins, Lead Educator and Founder of The Hurdle Life Coach

In the session employers learned best practices for building and sustaining cross-cultural relationships of the highest quality, lending itself to high performance outputs and outcomes in talent attraction and retention.

Attendees were able to draw from the trainers his lived experience as a credible messenger, organizational DEI consultant and peer coach providing direct support services to formerly incarcerated adults and at-risk youth in transition with messaging that spotlighted the importance of cultural humility, ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences), English as a lingua franca and more.
Jeff Abramowitz, JEVS Human Services & COABE Secretary
Danielle Cox, Maryland Department of Labor

This interactive presentation explored the untapped talent of justice involved individuals both behind and beyond our prison walls and helped attendees consider best practices for hiring, and more importantly retaining, those individuals in the labor market. Traditionally, justice involved individuals have faced an unemployment rate of 27%, a number higher than the peak of the Great Depression. Understanding the importance of adult literacy, skill development, and the challenges facing those traveling through our justice systems may hold the key to employers securing talented workers and helping them to survive and thrive. Attendees discussed and shared tools and resources which can assist educators, employers, and students in their career pathway journey.

It truly takes a village to make change happen at the intersection of our workforce and educational systems where the ultimate goal is to help those justice involved individuals searching for a chance to succeed in life.
Debra Means-West, World Education Services, Global Talent Bridge
Teresita B. Wisell, Westchester Community College
Janine E. Janosky, Richard J. Daley College
José Ramón Fernández-Peña, Northwestern University and American Public Health Association
Hosted by: World Education Services, Global Talent Bridge

Currently, there are over two million college-educated immigrants and refugees living in the U.S. who are underemployed or unemployed. More than sixty percent of these individuals earned their degrees outside the U.S. Mainstream workforce, adult education, and career pathways programs are rarely designed to leverage the talent of these internationally educated immigrants and refugees. Yet innovative solutions, ranging from initiatives that focus on international credential recognition to programs that provide career pathways, retraining support, and employment have demonstrated benefits. This session discussed strategies for connecting immigrants and refugees with academic and professional opportunities.
Judy Mortrude, World Education, Inc.
Dan Kosten, National Immigration Forum
Emily Foster, National Immigration Forum
Dane Linn, Business Roundtable
Hosted by: The National Immigration Forum

During the pandemic, we saw how immigrants and refugees played critical roles in keeping our economy moving forward and in assisting the recovery. Immigrant workers have disproportionately been “essential” in many industries or have suffered from especially high job losses. To foster a stronger and more equitable American economy, workforce policies must address the challenges and build upon the essential contributions of the foreign-born workforce.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was landmark legislation aiming to bring public workforce programs in line with the 21st century economy and innovations. It offers a strong foundation on which to build the next iteration of responsive and adaptive solutions. However, the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce—immigrants and refugees— needs stronger language in the Act, and much stronger implementation. As the community of advocates has proactively identified areas of improvement in the Act, the National Immigration Forum, joined by partners at World Education discussed the important role employers play in building the talent pipeline, the challenges they face, and provide recommendations for better serving and implementing programs for immigrant adult learners under WIOA, while also better facilitating employer engagement and access to WIOA funded programs.
Ben Konruff, Wisconsin Technical College System
Amber Stancher, Mid State Technical College

Equity is the foundation for student success in the Wisconsin Technical College System. Our transformative approach is fueled by data analysis, equity-centered policies, fiscal levers to address equity gaps, and professional development to enhance practice. During this session, attendees learned about how we have leveraged our equity-informed culture of evidence to spark innovation and expansion of Integrated Education and Training.

Communications, Publications, and Resources
Website Slider
PowerPoint Graphic
Web Banner
COABE updates the website regularly to reflect new materials that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. A new "Who We Serve" webpage was developed along with graphics promoting racial equity which were shared via PowerPoints, social media, and eblasts. Resources, such as the DEI Toolkit which is posted on COABE's Center of Excellence Apprenticeship webpage, are regularly shared with the membership.
Prison Literacy: The Key that Opens the Door to Opportunity
Racial Equity and
Immigrant Integration
Technology and Adult Learning: Digital Literacy for All

COABE solicited articles from the field and published the most popular edition of the Journal to date, entitled the Racial Equity and Immigrant Integration Journal. We then interviewed all the authors, and posted selected author interviews for the field. 

COABE also solicited articles from the field and published the Prison Literacy: The Key that Opens the Doors to Opportunity edition of the COABE Journal and the COABE board of directors started a prison literacy committee.

Additionally, COABE solicited articles and published the Technology and Adult Learning Digital Literacy For All edition of the COABE Journal and posted author interviews.
Partnership Communications

Urban Institute
COABE partnered with the Urban Institute to encourage applications for Equity Scholars in May 2021 as they kicked off a new effort to grow the field of researchers building evidence to accelerate racial justice and strengthen equity across society. The Equity Scholars program offers emerging and established scholars the opportunity to deepen their own policy-oriented research on race, equity, and/or structural racism while contributing to equity-focused analyses underway at Urban. Over two years, as members of a cohort, Equity Scholars develop research to interrogate the effects of structural racism on people and places, develop evidence-based solutions to advance racial equity, and share their insights to decision makers best positioned to act.

Barbara Bush Foundation for Literacy
COABE featured "Equity Resources for Teachers" In COABE Connects 2/21
“Three Black Women of Literacy” Unit of Study – This unit focuses on Harriet A. Jacobs, Susie King Taylor, and Septima Poinsette Clark, three Black women who were pioneers in adult literacy education for African Americans. Students have the opportunity to explore questions around one’s actions, legacy and contribution to our world, while learning about these extraordinary women and literacy’s key role in the Civil Rights movement. 

Diversity Toolkit for Teachers – These resources were compiled to support educators in antiracist/anti-bias teaching efforts. The many offerings include virtual trainings on anti-racist teaching and racial equity, educator resources, tools to inspire classroom exploration and conversation, booklists and lesson plans. • 

Anti-Racist/Anti-Bias Lesson Repository – The Foundation collected anti-racist/diversity-focused lessons from teachers across the United States. These engaging lessons span elementary through high school.

IBM SkillsBuild
COABE partnered with IBM to promote the IBM SkillsBuild Platform for adult learners, showcases 38 learning activities on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and a DEI specific channel with multiple opportunities and tools for learners. We are currently working with IBM on a DEI specific badge.

World Education Services
COABE partnered with World Education Services, an immigration organization to amplify the introduction of the Improving Opportunities for New Americans Act of 2021 in Congress. This bipartisan bill would direct the United States Department of Labor (DOL) to conduct an inter-agency study on the factors that contribute to the underemployment and unemployment of immigrants and refugees who hold international credentials. COABE supported their sign on letter and utilized the toolkit to amplify social media support.

Migration Policy Institute
COABE partnered with Migration Policy Institute (MPI) to promote Disparities Facing U.S. Children in Immigrant Families: New Data and Ideas for Indicators to Promote Equity webinar that took place on April 21st, 2021. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has inarguably exacerbated longstanding disparities that undermine the economic mobility and integration of immigrant parents in the United States and their children’s prospects for success in school and beyond. These include critical two-generational barriers disproportionately experienced by immigrant families, such as poverty, limited English proficiency, digital access and device challenges, linguistic isolation, and low levels of parental formal education. These disparities sit at the intersection of K-12, early childhood, adult education, and social services systems where they are largely unaddressed, despite expectations that each system play a major role in addressing them. 
This webcast explored new findings from an analysis conducted by the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, which compares key sociodemographic characteristics of immigrant and U.S.-born parents of young and school-age children and underscores their two-generational implications. Speakers examined disparities evident in the analysis and discussed potential ways to incorporate equity-sensitive measures associated with them in the policy and program frameworks of key systems, with an eye to achieving more responsive and effective service designs and improving equity and access more generally for families facing multiple disparities.

COABE Promoted CTE CoLab on March 19th, 2021 
World Education’s National College Transition Network and EdTech Center collaborated with the Urban Institute and national partners to launch the “CTE CoLab” in response to equity gaps in delivery of high-quality credit-bearing online career and technical education (CTE) programs. New research published by Urban Institute identifies opportunities for online CTE programs to better address the needs of their students and advance equitable outcomes. Completion rates for CTE programs are low overall, and even lower for students of color who have long faced systemic inequalities and challenges accessing and completing high-quality credit-bearing CTE programs.

Building on this work, the CTE CoLab, funded by ECMC Foundation, convened a College Community of Practice (CCP) of community and technical colleges to build knowledge, center equity in program goals and delivery, and develop and share resources to improve education and career outcomes in online CTE programming. The CoLab invited CTE programs to apply to participate in peer learning, coaching, and research-informed technical assistance, with the goal of authoring and implementing equity-centered action plans. Through this work, the CTE CoLab developed resources to support and build the field and collaborate with colleges in making their CTE programming more inclusive and accessible.
Workforce Opportunities
Behind Every Employer Initiative: COABE and SkillsUSA designed and launched the “Behind Every Employer” campaign in 2020 to encourage workforce providers and local programs to work together. Behind Every Employer committee member, Anson Green, hosted a webinar that discusses Tyson's Upward Academy strategy to help adult learners gain the skills they need to learn the language, increase their digital skills, and/or advance in the career pathway of their choice in job based literacy programs.
Move Ahead with Adult Ed Initiative: The two-time award winning “Move Ahead With Adult Ed” campaign was designed to provide outreach materials to help adult education programs with proactive tools to communicate the value of adult education. COABE also won a Google Ads grant that helps push adult learners into programs. The ads have been viewed over one million times and have helped more than 200,000 learners find programs that are on the COABE map. 

Amazon’s Adult Learner Initiative: The “Reducing Barriers to Employment” initiative enables adult learners without a high school education to apply for a position at Amazon, access their College Choice program (Amazon pays for 80-95% of the participants college education), and after two years with the company removes the barrier of a bachelor’s degree to apply for a position in management. Amazon also hosts site visits so that adult learners can tour the facility and determine if having a job at Amazon is of interest to them.

Google Initiative:
Year one of the COABE Google initiative focused on disseminating ”Applied Digital Skills” at the state level, while the second year focused on teaching those same skills at the local program level. The third year of our partnership focused on socializing Grow With Google by offering adult learners the opportunity to apply for scholarships to participate in the Google Career Certificates program, a flexible online training that is designed to put learners on the fast track to jobs in high demand, high growth fields. COABE will award 200 scholarships to adult learners this year.

Google also partnered with COABE to sponsor Intersect 2021, a symposium on Workforce and Education which had 1,792 attendees, and Google is partnering with COABE to sponsor a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium in June 2022 for 2,000 practitioners nationwide.

IBM SkillsBuild for Job Seekers: IBM SkillsBuild is a free digital platform with more than 11,000 badges, credentials, and designated career pathways that connects adult learners with a curated path of job-focused learning. 

The platform was customized by and for COABE through a unique partnership with IBM to include an Adult Ed channel and classroom properties so that our members can track their students as they make their way through the badges and credentials. Learners can showcase their badges and credentials on LinkedIn, job transcripts, and resumes. As well, a curated list of employers are seeking to hire completers. 1,617 programs have signed up and have begun using the IBM SkillsBuild platform.

COABE worked with IBM SkillsBuild to create a customized credential for presenters called “Present with Purpose” that helps trainers acquire the skills that they need to present in a hybrid format. 431 trainers completed the credential as of 1/31/2022.

In addition to the IBM SkillsBuild initiative, Google certification initiative, and Amazon jobs initiative, COABE supports adult learners in a variety of ways.

Ambassador Training: The award-winning Ambassador training teaches adult learners how to speak to people in power.

Alumni Position on the Board of Directors: COABE created the new alumni board of directors position to give voice to adult learners.

Programs Succeed When Learners Lead Incentive Grant: COABE launched the inaugural "Programs Succeed When Learners Lead" grant to incentivize programs ensuring learners are in leadership positions.

Minds That Move Us Initiative: COABE co-led the Minds That Move Us initiative which challenged communities to design innovative education and training models that create social equity and economic mobility for adult learners.

Future Opportunities

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium: Save your seat for the DEI Symposium which will be held on June 8th, 2022, and will be chaired by Shaketta Thomas and co-chaired by Hector Martinez. This event will be designed and hosted by COABE and is free to members due to Google's sponsorship. Register here.
Online Entrepreneurship Institute: The Online Entrepreneurship Institute kicked off on February 3rd, 2022, with all seats filled, plus a waiting list. The Institute provides resources to help adult education programs put GED and workforce skills to work (literally) for your adult learners! The overarching goal of this field-tested Institute is to streamline adult educators and service providers' learning of basic entrepreneurship content and pedagogy by reviewing instructional resources. Self-employment is a real “game-changer” for disenfranchised individuals living in impoverished areas because it offers freedom, hope, and empowerment via more personally fulfilling career options while capitalizing on and affirming existing skills and talents. Attendees receive a certificate and COABE badge.
COABE's DEI efforts are generously sponsored in part by Google.