I was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, and I came to the United States at fifteen years old. My mother raised us on her own in Chicagoland, and I saw how hard she worked to provide us with educational opportunity. Navigating school as an English language learner was not easy, but I was able to achieve college and career success through support from wonderful mentors and caring educators.

I am reminded of own experience when I hear stories about the nearly 7,000 Chicagoans who have enrolled in Adult Education programs at City Colleges this year. Our students enroll because they want more for themselves and their families. Some of our students enter our programs hoping to learn English. Others come to Chicago from elsewhere in the world and need a United States high school credential as an entry point to future work or schooling. Many of our students join us to finish a high school program they had to put on hold to work, raise children, recover from illness, or care for elderly parents.

Their stories are different, but their goal is the same—to change their lives through education. I am proud to see so many of our students make that goal a reality. Take, for instance, Naomi Monroe, who earned her high school equivalency this year with support from faculty and staff at Kennedy-King College six years after she dropped out of high school to care for her three children. Her children were the first to know that Naomi had passed the final section of the GED.

Naomi enrolled in the Career Bridge program when she signed up for high school equivalency prep classes, which enabled her to earn college credit and a basic certificate in early childhood education while working toward her high school equivalency. She received targeted support throughout her journey, including guidance from a transition specialist who helped her apply for the Career Bridge program and a tutor who taught her writing and study skills and helped her navigate her college classes. Kennedy-King educators noticed when she began missing her Adult Education classes and helped Naomi persevere when she worried about dropping out.

Naomi is one of more than 600 students who earned their high school equivalency at City Colleges of Chicago between 2020 and 2022, achieving this great milestone during a worldwide pandemic. We will honor them at the Adult Education High School Equivalency Recognition Ceremony at Arturo Velasquez Institute on June 4, 2022, joined by their families and friends.

Our Adult Education programs are often just the beginning of our students’ journeys. After earning their high school equivalency, our students find meaningful work, pursue college credit, and reach larger goals. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that people with a high school diploma or equivalency are 37.5% more likely to get a job than those without one, and they earn, on average, $9,500 more per year than people without a high school credential.

Students who earn their high school equivalency at City Colleges of Chicago don’t just find a new job or a salary boost—they discover a sense of community and belonging. These dedicated adults learn together in classrooms led by high-quality adult educators across our great city of Chicago. Our programs are open to Chicagoans with or without United States citizenship, and our participants are connected by a shared desire for greater education and career opportunities.

At City Colleges of Chicago, we are working collaboratively to help more adult learners harness the power and opportunity that comes with furthering their education. Whether an English language learner like me or returning student and parent like Naomi, adult learners are valuable members of our college community.

Luis Narváez is the Associate Vice Chancellor of Adult Education at City Colleges of Chicago. He is completing a Doctor of Education program with a focus in Educational Leadership and Administration at National Louis University, where he is a CLAVE Fellow. Narváez completed a year-long Emerging Leader program at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs in 2017 and a Multicultural Leadership Academy fellowship with the Latino Policy Forum in 2018 after earning a Master degree in Educational Leadership and Administration at Northeastern Illinois University. He received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois.

Narváez’s passions are in adult learning, biliteracy, and issues of educational equity and workforce opportunity. He works to strengthen City College of Chicago’s Adult Education programs, creating strong pathways to college and career success for Chicago’s diverse adult learners.