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Released July 17, 2003


HATTIESBURG -- The University of Southern Mississippi's Adult Learning and Education Center puts the university at the forefront of efforts to combat illiteracy in the state while providing research opportunities in adult education for Southern Miss students.

Previously known as the Literacy Resource Center for Mississippi, and operated through the governor's office, the two-year federal program was placed under the auspices of the State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) before being transferred to Southern Miss last year.

Dr. Willie Pierce, interim dean of the Southern Miss College of Education and Psychology and a professor of adult education at the school, said the goal of the center is to promote adult learning and education through three emphasis areas, including research, innovation and diffusion.

"Through research, we find out how adults learn and how we can deliver services to adults more effectively," Pierce said. "Through innovation we take what we learn and apply it to hand-picked programs to monitor, and then with diffusion we come up with the best practices to recommend (for implementation)."

Pierce said the center will provide support such as staff development, teacher education and program development.

Research conducted will focus not only on models for literacy centers, but for other adult education programs conducted by universities (such as Southern Miss' programs in continuing education), churches, school systems and the YMCA, among others.

Currently, the center also provides supervision for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteers who are working throughout the state to recruit other volunteers who can provide reading services to adult learners. These volunteers coordinate programs, tutor, work with nonprofit organizations that have literacy programs and with local government entities to provide support for the delivery of these services. Some of these programs include GED, Welfare to Work and parenting classes for families.

The center receives funding through a $50,000 grant from the Corporation for National Service, and Pierce said other funding sources are being pursued to operate the center.

In a state that is often ranked at or near the bottom in adult literacy, Southern Miss is playing a critical role in providing important educational skills that can help Mississippians who need help to succeed as parents, employees and members of their communities. According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Literacy, Mississippi has the highest illiteracy rate in the country, with 30 percent of the state's residents unable to function at a seventh- or eight-grade level.

"They (VISTA volunteers) do good work," said VISTA leader LaToya Hart, a Southern Miss graduate who coordinates the volunteer work of VISTA volunteers through the Adult Learning and Education Center. "I see a lot of commitment on their part, and I believe they are making a difference. The clients (they work with) feel like someone cares."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM