Adult education in the United States has been in effect for more than two centuries; enjoying federal sponsorship when the special needs of society demanded something be done to accommodate these needs. Federal legislation was the vehicle through which these special needs were met, focusing on military needs, and economic and social programs through the 1930’s. During the 1940’s emphasis still remained on the importance of education to the military, but the federally sponsored adult education programs placed their emphasis on the veteran who was about to re-enter society as a civilian. The GED testing program was begun in 1942 to facilitate the needs of adults who left school early to join the armed forces so they could continue their education after World War II. In 1947 the GED tests were opened to civilians for the first time, and by 1963 more civilians than military personnel were taking the GED tests. During 1964 the Economic Opportunity Act was passed, part of which established the Adult Basic Education Program.

This program offered adults the opportunity to develop reading, writing language, and computation skills at a basic functional level. It was the Adult Education Act of 1966 that expanded adult education, providing adults with the opportunity to continue their education to at least the level of completion of secondary school, and made available the means to secure training that would enable them to become more employable, productive, and responsible citizens. Literally, millions of adults are eligible to take advantage of these programs, but as of 1984 only 2,596,544 adults were actively engaged in federally funded programs, of which 682,000 adults took the GED test, with 73% of these adults meeting the state requirements for a passing score (National Advisory Council of Adult Education).

The self-concept of adults participating in adult education (ABE/GED) is more of a result than a factor of educational success. The self-concept of educationally disadvantaged adults, and found that in spite of low self-concepts they did succeed in the GED program he was investigating. Past researchers relate this poor academic self-concept to negative prior educational experiences due to punishment, failure, and/or alienation. Adults with less than a high school education possess low academic self-perceptions and poor self-concepts for the reasons explained above. Educational success can do much to improve this situation, but even after success in a GED program there still remain doubts as to their academic abilities even though the academic self-perceptions and self-concept have been improved. What is not explained above, nor in the literature, is the degree of improvement in academic self-perception experienced by the adults who score high enough on the GED tests to receive the GED certificate, or if there is a difference in the academic self-perceptions of adults who continue their education after they receive the GED credential and those who do not continue their education.