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Esther Prins


Ph.D., Cornell University, 2003
Professor of Education
Co-Director, Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy
Institute for the Study of Adult Literacy
Affiliate faculty member, Comparative and International Education Program and Center on Rural Education and Communities

Full CV available here

After receiving her B.A. in Sociology from Wheaton College (Illinois), Esther coordinated an adult education program and taught ESL classes to Latino/a immigrants in Chicago. Her academic work has taken place in educational and community settings in the U.S. (Pennsylvania, New York, California, Washington), Central America (El Salvador, Belize), Ireland, and Africa (Ghana, Tanzania). These venues have included adult and family literacy programs, a digital storytelling class, a union- and university-sponsored adult education program for Cornell employees, after-school programs, school-based community development projects, community-university partnerships, computer classes for children and adults at a migrant housing center, ecumenical community development and organizing coalitions, Cooperative Extension (Cornell, UC-Davis, and Washington State University), and informal science education for rural adults.

Esther's research interests include critical and sociocultural perspectives of adult and family literacy; gender; rural adult education; and participatory approaches to education, community development, and research. In particular, her scholarship examines the "wider benefits" of adult education and how it reproduces and/or mitigates gender, racial, class, and cultural inequalities. Esther was PI for a $400,000 Institute of Education Science grant (2015-18), "Career Pathways Programming for Lower-Skilled Adults and Immigrants: A Comparative Analysis of Adult Education Providers in High-Need Cities." Visit our project website:

A current research project is a study of the Read to Your Child Program at a Pennsylvania state prison (inmate fathers are videotaped reading a book for their child, who then receives the videotape, book, and a collage). Esther and her colleagues at the Goodling Institute for Research in Family Literacy received a $488,000 contract to evaluate the William Penn Foundation's Family Literacy Initiative at 5 programs in Philadelphia.

Esther has also brought adult education expertise to two National Science Foundation projects involving adults and science: Marcellus EASE (Educating Adults about Science and Energy) and ALCCAR (Anticipatory Learning for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience).

Learn more about previous research projects:

Esther's courses include Family Literacy (ADTED 561); Language, Literacy, Identity, and Culture in Global Contexts (ADTED/CI ED 509); Politics, Language and Pedagogy: Applying Paulo Freire Today (ADTED/CI ED 562); and Social and Historical Foundations of Adult Education (ADTED 510). 

Esther’s scholarship has been published in many journals across several disciplines, including:

  • education (e.g., American Educational Research Journal, Teachers College Record, Journal of Research in Rural Education, Journal of Continuing Higher Education),
  • adult education (e.g., Adult Education Quarterly, International Journal of Lifelong Education, Studies in the Education of Adults, Adult Basic Education and Literacy),
  • distance education (American Journal of Distance Education),
  • sociology, community development, and planning (e.g., Rural Sociology, Journal of Planning Education and Research, Journal of the Community Development Society),
  • ethnic studies (Journal of Latinos and Education), 
  • health (PLOS ONE), and
  • methodology  (Action Research, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education).


Dr. Prins serves on the editorial board of Adult Education Quarterly and Journal of Research in Rural Education. She is a consulting editor for the International Review of Education and Adult Literacy Education: The International Journal of Literacy, Language, and Numeracy.

She has received the following honors:

  • Mildred B. and Charles A. Wedemeyer Award for Outstanding Scholar in Distance Education (with Cathy Kassab, Brendaly Drayton, and Ramazan Gungor, 2013, American Journal of Distance Education)
  • Outstanding Researcher Award (PSU College of Education, 2011)
  • Imogene Okes Award for Outstanding Research (American Association for Adult and Continuing Education, 2010)
  • Outstanding Paper by an Early Career Scholar Award (with Kai Schafft, Adult Literacy and Adult Education SIG, American Educational Research Association, 2007)
  • Professors for the Future Fellowship (UC-Davis, 2003-04)
  • Women’s Studies Dissertation Fellowship (Cornell University, 2001)
  • Julian and Veta S. Butterworth Doctoral Research Prize (Cornell University, 2000).