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Adult Learner Leaders for Institutional Effectiveness

(ALLIES Framework)

A New Framework - Rooted in CAEL'S Legacy

In recognition of an evolving postsecondary environment, and from the outcomes of this work, a new framework emerged. CAEL developed the 'Adult Learner Leaders for Institutional Effectiveness', or ALLIES, Framework, to provide guidance on best practices that effectively meet adult learners' needs within today's learning and labor market environment. Included are a series of planning and operational domains for institutions to more effectively support adult learners. The ALLIES Framework represents an evolution from the original publication of CAEL's Ten Principles for Effectively Serving Adults. Going forward, the ALLIES framework will guide CAEL's work with institutions in the future, and the Framework will inform new tools and resources for our members and partners.

Allies Transparent

How it Works

In the ALLIES framework, the adult learner is at the focal point of the process as a whole.

In Level 1: Data-Driven Planning, the institution engages in a set of activities that establish the first part of the foundation: making data-driven decisions that ensure equity and success.

In Level 2: Organizational Capacity and Policy, the institution focuses on expanding and improving internal capacity to meet adult learner needs.

In Level 3: Student Experience, the institution focuses on designing, developing, and improving the program- and service-design components that the adult learner sees and experiences. 

Using the Framework

The ALLIES framework is a starting point for institutions to take their adult-focused programs and services to the next stage. Institutional planning groups can use the levels and domains as a guide when considering how to build or strengthen their foundation. The main report provides a list of questions to help institutions begin that process. 

Going forward, CAEL’s work with institutions and other organizations will use this framework and approach, and we will design new tools and resources based on the new framework for our members and partners. We hope that sharing the framework with a broader audience will have an impact on how adult learners are served in all postsecondary institutions and programs. 

CAEL's president Earl Buford discusses the new ALLIES Framework in this exclusive video:

Download the Research

The primary research revealed several important themes and insights about the needs of today's adult learners for successful postsecondary experiences:

  • Affordability. Adult learners are highly cost-conscious; financial factors are often central to enrollment decisions.
  • Career Connections and Relevance. Professional growth and development is a primary motivator for enrollment. 
  • Academic Empowerment. Adult learners seek institutions that recognize their complete experience and provide opportunities to manage their own progress and development. 
  • Student Support. A range of support services is critical for student success, particularly at the front end of an adult learner's journey.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Adult learners embody multiple roles and identities in their lives; institutional systems and structures may perpetuate inequities in access and student success.

ALLIES Report Executive Summary


Click on the learn more link below to review an executive summary, or the full report and appendices, including a closer look at the high-performing programs at the study's participating institutions.  

Learn more →

For the full report, click here.

"Never-Enrolled" Companion Research Report


You can also download CAEL's report that focuses on the research on adults who recently considered postsecondary education, but ultimately chose not to attend.

Learn more →

“In the real world, you have to pay for rent, and you have to go to work. There was no way for me. I felt like college wasn't adult-friendly... There weren't a lot of options for online classes or anything like that. It was taking me longer to finish.”
Quote from Adult Learner

Current Adult Learner

Want to learn more? Let's talk.

For assistance in ensuring your institution is positioned to effectively support adult learners, reach out to our team today.