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Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS)

ACLS Services

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education funds programs to establish free access to basic adult education services in public school systems, public agencies, and community based organizations across the State. These services are for residents of Commonwealth age 16 or older. Services are designed to enhance the individuals" literacy skills - their ability to read, write, and speak English and to compute and solve problems at levels of proficiency necessary to function as parents/family members, workers, and members of the community. Eligible agencies receiving funds from the DESE are encouraged to address the needs of clients with learning disabilities. Programs offer activities to prepare students for passing a high school equivalency assessment and moving on to post-high school education or vocational training and/or acquiring or advancing in employment.

Listed below are the programs currently available to eligible agencies in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts providing services and/or instruction in adult education and literacy services, family literacy services, Workplace Education, and English literacy programs.

  • Adult Basic Education
    Adult Basic Education (including literacy through adult secondary education and English for speakers of other languages) Grants establish free access for educationally disadvantaged adults, age 16 and older, for adult basic education services in their geographic or ethnic communities in the sixteen Service Delivery Areas (SDAs) across the Commonwealth. These services are supported in a common process using both federal and state ABE funding.

  • Adult Education for the Homeless
    The Adult Education for the Homeless Program funds the establishment of long-term collaborations between adult learning centers and adult education for the homeless projects at shelters across the Commonwealth. These projects assist homeless adults in their efforts to achieve basic education and literacy skills and self-sufficiency in a stable, safe and secure environment.

  • Advising and Student Support Services
    ACLS requires that advising be available to all students. All adult education students should be actively pursuing options for postsecondary education, training, and employment based on informed decisions. Program staff must address student barriers to participation and refer students to outside social service agencies as needed. In addition, advisors and instructional staff must work collaboratively to create a culture of student self-efficacy and persistence.

  • Career Pathways
    Career Pathways services aim to develop a continuum of services that take adult learners from instruction to employment. Adult Education (AE) programs can offer a range of career pathways services including career awareness, career, exploration, career immersion,1 workforce preparation activities, bridge classes, contextualized instruction, and concurrent and contextualized adult education, workforce preparation activities, and workforce training through MassSTEP funding.

  • Disability Services
    The Disability Services web pages contain the Massachusetts ADA Standards, and links to disability related topics that may be of interest to adult education practitioners and students.

  • Distance Education
    Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS) recognizes that there is a strong need to connect adult education instruction to those not currently being served by traditional face-to-face programs. Students may find opportunities through virtual and/or online instruction aimed to increase English language, literacy and numeracy skills.

    Distance Education is a form of instruction where students and instructors are separated by geography, time, or both for the majority of the instructional period. Distance Education materials are delivered through a variety of media, including but not limited to, print, audio recording, videotape, broadcasts, computer software, web-based programs, and other online technology.

    Teachers communicate with distance learners via mail, telephone, e-mail, or online technologies and software. A Distance Education participant receives all or a majority of instruction through remote methods.

    The primary purposes for integrating Distance Education modes of instruction in programs are:

    • to provide educational services to individuals who cannot attend traditional face-to-face classes due to conflicting work schedules or other circumstances
    • to increase access to services for students on a waiting list or other referral sources

  • Educational Programs for the Incarcerated
    The Educational Programs for the Incarcerated Program uses both State and Federal funds for projects designed to establish free access in correctional institutions to adult basic education services for offenders age 16 and older. Services enhance the ability of institutionalized persons to read, write, and speak English and to compute and solve mathematical problems at a level of proficiency sufficient for them to function in society and develop their potential as individuals and citizens upon release from the correctional facility or institution.

  • Outstationing at MassHire Career Centers
    Outstationing is the practice of assigning an adult education (AE) staff person to a MassHire Career Center for a set number of hours each week. The AE staff person, or outstationed coordinator, acts as a liaison between AE programs in the local area and the career center. The primary role of the outstationed coordinator is to help current and potential AE students access services by assisting career center staff with intake, assessments, and referrals to local AE programs. In addition, the outstationed coordinator is also responsible for connecting eligible AE students looking for employment and/or training opportunities with career centers.

  • Transition to College Programs
    Housed in 11 Massachusetts public colleges, Transition to College programs partner with ACLS-funded adult education providers to ensure the successful transition of adult students into postsecondary education. All students take a College for Success course that equips them with the skills needed to be successful in college and in their careers. Intensive advising and the use of student cohorts are also components of these programs.

  • Volunteer Tutoring Services
    The Volunteer Tutoring Services Program funds support projects delivering adult basic education services. Most volunteers provide instruction that supplements ABE and literacy study in regular programs. Others provide services to learners for whom participation in classroom-based adult basic education services is impossible or unsuitable.

  • Workplace Education Program
    The Workplace Education Program funds eligible agencies that provide instructional services below the post-secondary level for adults (incumbent workers) in basic reading, writing and numeracy, pre-adult secondary (Pre-ASE), and adult secondary education (ASE) including preparation for high school equivalency certification. English for Speakers of other languages (ESOL) instruction may also be provided for limited-English proficient adults.

    Instructional services are provided through partnerships among businesses, labor organizations, and adult education providers. Projects are supported with a combination of primarily state and local matching resources for up to three years.

1 For definitions of and information on career awareness, career exploration, and career immersion see Guide to Career Development Education in Massachusetts, Version 2.0 and Massachusetts Adult Education Glossary .

Last Updated: September 19, 2023

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


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