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In the Crosshairs of Climate Change: Adult Learners

There is a great deal of crossover in the communities served by Adult Education and the communities most at risk to the impacts of Climate Change.

Climate Vulnerability Factors

Take a look at this graphic from the California Climate Adaptation Planning Guide which details the risk factors in increased sensitivity to Climate Change. (Alt text for this graphic is provided at bottom of this blog post.)

Adult Learners

Adult Education is a branch of public education. In California, Adult Education includes classes in:

  • Learning English

  • Career Education

  • High School Equivalency and High School Diploma

  • Citizenship

  • Adults with Disabilities Programs

  • Training to Support Child School Success

Here are demographics of the Adult Education population in California (from CalPro’s Evidence in Action - Equity in California Adult Education - Sept 2022)

■ The largest adult education population is 67.19 % Hispanic or Latino.

■ The racial breakdown of the remaining adult education population is

● 6.31 % Black

● 12.78 % Asian

● 0.35 % American Indian and Alaska Native people

● 0.23 % Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander

● 2.55 % more than one race

■ California is home to almost 11 million immigrants (Johnson and Sanchez 2019)

● 27 % of Californians are foreign born.

● 53 % of California immigrants are documented.

● 50 % of California immigrants were born in Latin America

● 39 % of California immigrants were born in Asia

● 70 % of California’s immigrant population are bilingual and speak English proficiently.

● 10 % of California’s immigrant population does not speak English (approximately 1,100,000 individuals). (Bold italics mine - CE)

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation includes more than 50,000 adult education students annually. As of 2017, African Americans remained the most overrepresented group in California’s prison population (Harris et al. 2019):

  • African Americans made up 28.5 percent of the male incarcerated population but represented only 5.6 percent of the state population.

  • African Americans made up 25.9 percent of the female incarcerated population but represented only 5.7 percent of the state population.

Because California adult education students are primarily minority individuals, they have historically been impacted by the effects of inequity on society. (Italics and bold mine - CE)

To learn more:

Visit the “Explore Census (https://data., type in ZIP code, click “advance search,” and select the “populations and people” topic to investigate the demographics of that area. To learn more about education demographics, complete the same process, but select “education” as the topic.

Crossover Between Adult Ed and Climate Vulnerable

As you can see, there is a great deal of crossover between these two communities. Both experience linguistic isolation, lack of resources, lack of living wage, political disenfranchisement, low social capital, and high stress from racism and other ‘isms.

(Alt text for this graphic is provided at bottom of this blog post.)

Adult Learners are definitely in the crosshairs of Climate Change. Extreme heat, high intensity mega fires, poor air quality, flooding, rising seas, drought, and food insecurity are just a few of the many impacts that are occurring and worsening.

Climate Driven Migration

It is also important to remember that Climate Change is a driver of migration - both within states and nations and across international borders. People seeking Adult Education because they are new to the area and need language or job skills may be arriving with trauma from Climate Change catastrophic events or conditions - flooding, drought, hurricanes, etc.

Vulnerability by County in California

Visit CCHVIz - to see vulnerability to Climate Change county by county in California.

Note: Adult Ed is delivered regionally in California, often county by county, making this an excellent website to use when looking at program and planning needs for each Adult Education Regional Consortium.

Cuts and Restructuring in Adult Ed Worsened Inequity

Adult Ed in California went through deep cuts after the Housing Market crash of 2008. This was followed by restructuring. Governor Schwarzenegger allowed K12 districts to use Adult Ed funds to band aid their own cuts. K12 districts with the greatest needs cut Adult Ed the most. Restructuring tied new funding to what districts were doing in 2013 - after many districts had closed programs or nearly eliminated them. This penalized poor areas with higher need. The situation - to greater or lesser degree depending on the area - continues today. In other words, inequity was baked into the restructuring of Adult Education in California and in a way that often hits areas most vulnerable to Climate Change the hardest. This is on top of inequities that existed pre-cuts --that center on the complexities of how public education is funded. Last but not least, Adult Education in California is still funded at less than what it was funded when the market crashed in 2008.

Climate Change Magnifies Difficulties

Climate Change impacts add to the difficulties that many Adult Learners face - magnifying obstacles and making academic, economic, and social progress harder to obtain.

These impacts also affect schools, programs, and staff, which makes providing education and resources more difficult. For example, the impact of the Camp Fire of 2018 on the Oroville Adult School community or the impact of extreme heat on the Adult Schools of Southern and Interior California or drought on the Adult Schools in the Central Valley.

Adult Education must provide both students and staff with the resources needed to prepare for and respond to Climate Change.

Actions needed:

  1. Sustainability curriculum in ESL, GED, High School Diploma and Career Ed programs

  2. Green job pathways

  3. Sustainability on campus - waste management, Green Teams, landscaping

  4. Pathways to community and civic engagement - student leadership, civics education, volunteering

  5. Participation in CAPs - Climate Action Plans

More info and resources for each of these points in coming blog posts!


Alt Text to First Graphic:

Root Causes: (with arrow leading to Social Factors)

  • Racial segregation

  • Poverty

  • Income inequality

  • Lack of living wage jobs

  • Gaps in educational opportunities and engagement

  • Concentrated neighborhood disinvestment

  • Political disenfranchisement and low social capital

  • Increased neighborhood violence and crime.

Social Factors: (with arrow leading to Biological Factors and to Final Result)

  • Ability to afford basic necessities and resources

  • Access to affordable and quality housing

  • Access to reliable and affordable transportation

  • Access to affordable healthcare

  • Access to green spaces, green infrastructure, and tree cover

  • Linguistic isolation

  • Social cohesion

  • Residential isolation

Biological Factors: (with arrow leading to Final Result)

  • Age

  • Chronic and acute illnesses

  • Mental and physical disabilities

  • Overall health status

Final Result: Increased Sensitivity to Climate Change

Alt Text to Second Graphic:

Venn Diagram of Adult Ed and Climate Change Vulnerability

In the crossover area:

  • Linguistic Isolation

  • Lack of Resources

  • Lack of Living Wage

  • Political Disenfranchisement

  • Low Social Capital

  • High Stress from Racism and other ‘isms


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