Pamela Tate is the Chief National Partnerships Officer for Strada Education Network. Prior to that role, she served as President of CAEL. She is recognized for the work she has  undertaken in the higher education, public and private sectors to make it easier for adults to get the education and training they need to succeed. The Learning House caught up with her after her session at Connect 2018 to learn more about the challenges adult students face.




What do you consider the greatest barrier that keeps an adult learner from earning a degree?


The three biggest barriers mentioned in surveys are lack of time—due to family, work, community obligations; lack of money; and then lack of confidence. Just not believing that I can do it, not thinking I’m a college student, really. Not believing in myself. That’s a huge issue for students.


They entered the program with the confidence that they could graduate. What do you think causes this crisis of confidence?


Once they’re there? They’re dealt with from a deficit model mindset (a term introduced to people at Connect 2018 by keynote speaker, Karen Gross, meaning the tendency to focus on a student’s weaknesses, not their strengths). You know, “this person doesn’t have these things.” And so, it doesn’t build their confidence; it often erodes their confidence, especially if they’re in a program with students who they see to be right out of high school and traditional and who have an easier time of it than they do. They find that difficult.


Also, testing is a real challenge. People are afraid of tests, and they often were unsuccessful in their last attempt at schooling. And, of all the things you ask people about, it’s tests that do people in. They often know more, but they get so upset having to take a high-performance test of some kind that they just freeze up. Testing is an enormous challenge and barrier for adults. They tend to view them as a measure of “the whole me.”  They cannot see that the test is not a judgement about them and whether they have ability.