At my last job, I was, among other things, in charge of a free ESOL program for adults.
As you might know, my students were basically two main groups: well-to-do trailing spouses of East Asian businessmen, and underprivileged parents from our preschool, who were usually Latin American but not always.
And as you might guess, the well-to-do students usually needed less help but showed up far more reliably. I wanted to help the other students, but our funders needed bodies in the room, and sometimes you just have to search for the students who will be there.
A lot of funding is this way, of course. Going after the truly neediest isn't sexy, and succesful metrics are sexy. And I knew that if I expended energy and money on trying and trying and trying various interventions on students who were likely to vanish, we would possibly lose the money paying the salary of the woman who helped me run the program and taught many of the classes.
I actually decided to go back to school for this reason, along with the simple desire to author my own studies and professional writing.
I think there's a way for such programs, free programs for adults with less means or time, to flourish, to keep students engaged, to keep them in the room, to prove themselves worthy of the type of funding other programs (particularly those for children) receive.
I'm reading yet another book on behavioral economics, and the book makes it clear that the way education is planned for the poor or otherwise challenged isn't really working. We can all point to a very dedicated student or two - I know we had some! - but we can't point to people who aren't present. I admit I got frustrated with the students on occasion - I really got mad when they wouldn't come. But I was ultimately annoyed with myself because I couldn't figure out how to make it work.
There is a way. The way is removing hassle factors, reducing cognitive load, and providing the concrete path towards reducity scarcity in their lives. WHICH hassle factors, HOW to reduce cognitive load, this will have to be studied. If what is distracting them is unpaid bills, does an organization offer short-term low-interest loans to students? Does it offer childcare? How close does it need to be to their homes for them not to find attending a hassle? What if the courses were shorter, so they didn't seem as overwhelming?
This can be answered. No one is truly asking (or maybe they are and I can talk to them). There is room for an adult education nonprofit that seeks to educate vulnerable adults in a way that isn't just throwing services at them but really meets them where they don't even realize they can be met.