There are currently 2.2 million working-age adults in Florida who have started college and never finished. Complete Florida, an attainment program funded by the legislature, has a goal to help these individuals get the degrees they need for the jobs they want. This effort keeps talent pipelines filled with skilled employees that keep Florida’s economy stable. Part of these efforts require that Florida colleges and universities understand their adult learner populations. Who are they? What are their needs?
One of Complete Florida’s partner institutions, Florida International University (FIU), focuses some of its efforts on students who are older than 25 and Latino. To enhance its support for Latino adult students, FIU is participating in a new initiative managed by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), in partnership with Excelencia in Education.
CAEL is a national organization that emphasizes supporting adult working learners. Last year, CAEL joined forces with Excelencia, another national organization focused on Latino student success, to form the Latino Adult Student Success Academy.
The initiative is helping 15 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and emerging HSIs take steps to enhance services to Latino adult students. Each institution collects data and input from students and the institution, and then uses that information to identify areas for improvement. Each institution then develops strategies and a plan to measure success along the way. All participating institutions are members of a community of practice, called an Academy. They meet in person annually to learn from each other.
“We know that peer learning can be powerful, and so it is important to include the Academy model in this focus on Latino adult students whose postsecondary experiences can be very different from students who transition directly from high school to college,” said Marie Cini, CAEL’s president.
“FIU is interested in participating in the initiative because almost two-thirds of its current student population is Hispanic, and 26 percent are age 25 and older,” said Bridgette Cram, Ph.D., assistant vice president of academic and student affairs at FIU.
“As an institution, we are always interested in best practices,” Cram said. “In the past few months there has been more and more national talk about challenges relating to financing education. The context includes the availability of support services and other issues such as effective communication and outreach. We would like this initiative to help us examine the needs of Latino adult students and to leverage this momentum in a formalized way.”
Participation in the Latino Adult Student Success Academy is a three-year process that began in 2018 and is built around CAEL’s Adult 360 model. The Kresge Foundation, Ascendium Education Group and The Greater Texas Foundation provided grants to make the work possible.
The three main goals of the Latino Adult Student Success Academy are:
- Examine how HSIs and emerging HSIs are currently serving the needs of Latino students.
- Promote sustainable change in process, procedure, models and systems that support Latino students.
- Collect data related to these issues, disseminate the information and form plans to act upon it.
The initiative provides ongoing technical assistance support and the opportunity to learn from others through the Academy model.
“I like the fact that CAEL builds in opportunities for structured follow-up,” Cram said. “We have to meet regularly, collect data, plan and reflect, but CAEL is very open to flexibility about how we decide to act on the findings. That is what makes for a sustainable outcome.”
Complete Florida is especially interested in the progress of the Academy project launched by CAEL and Excelencia at FIU. Twenty schools throughout the state are Complete Florida partners, including FIU. Complete Florida offers degrees that are 100 percent online so adults can fit school into their schedules, which are filled with personal and professional obligations. More than 200 options for certificates, associate and bachelor’s degrees exist because of Complete Florida’s partnerships with public and private institutions around the state.
“The insights that will become available through the Latino Adult Student Success Academy are valuable to everyone who works to support adult learners,” said Michelle Horton, Ed.D., director of Complete Florida. “We want to help share ideas gleaned by this study at FIU with others around the state. We are all in this together, and none of us should have to work alone when so many faculty, administrators, staff, and of course, our students can benefit from what is learned.”
Note: The opinions expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kresge Foundation, Ascendium Education Group, Greater Texas Foundation, or any director, officer, or employee thereof.
This is the first in a series of blogs co-produced by Complete Florida and CAEL to highlight issues that affect returning adult learners.