As 2016 draws to a close and sights are set on what promises to be a transformational 2017, it’s fitting that we look ahead to see the shape the adult learner experience will take. However, if what’s past is prologue, we should first look at how the environment supporting the adult learner has changed this year to better inform our beliefs about the changes to come. Thankfully, it’s fair to say that many such changes that came about this year were positive ones.
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday this week, here are five recent shifts in the higher education landscape for which adult learners and their advocates should be thankful.
- The growing recognition of institutions that support adult learners. In its September/October issue, Washington Monthly released its rankings of two- and four-year colleges that featured a notable inclusion to the delight of advocates for adult learners everywhere: a ranking of America’s best colleges for adult learners. These rankings represent a marked shift in the recognition of the importance of adult learners and in the need to meet their unique needs to encourage degree completion. Rankings considered institutions’ qualities such as class schedule flexibility, services for adult and ease of transfer.
- Groups’ commitment to increasing adults’ access to higher education. In addition to CAEL’s continued support of the adult learner, a number of prominent organizations have made considerable strides over the last year toward efforts to ensure adult students’ success. Lumina Foundation, for example, is making headway in its commendable Goal 2025 initiative, which aims to increase the proportion of Americans with high-quality credentials to 60 percent of the U.S. population by 2025. The Kresge Foundation, too, has made a number of significant investments that total $145.5 million in areas that include education.
- Employers’ renewed commitments to expanding education opportunities. With a new appreciation of the need for proactive efforts to diminish the skills gap, organizations are increasingly investing in frontline employees, with support that includes tuition assistance programs, to encourage employee attainment of a postsecondary education. Members of Business Champions have helped lead the way in this investment, spreading the word of the importance of upskilling.
- Greater attention on underserved populations. The year 2016 saw greater efforts to support underserved populations in their pursuits of an education. The U.S. population of Latinos, who have the lowest overall level of educational attainment, have been identified as a population that deserves support such as prior learning assessment (PLA), which can increase degree completion rates. Veterans, who face their own challenges in pursuit of a postsecondary education, have also received a renewed focus to improve institutional support.
- Unwavering support for adult learner success. Adult learners and their advocates can take solace in the belief that the focus on education will not abate in 2017. On the contrary, early signs point to an even greater emphasis on increasing access to higher education in the year to come. As noted throughout CAEL’s recent 2016 International Conference, experts from business, higher education and government hold the conviction that adult learners can expect continued support in the year--and years--to come.
There is much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving for adult learning. Let’s work together to ensure that progress carries over into 2017.