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Member Institute Spotlight
Shasta College, Redding, CA

Shasta College has undertaken a number of exciting initiatives in support of the adult learner. CAEL recently spoke with Kate Mahar, Shasta College’s Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, to discuss steps the college has taken to better reach its adult students, working with CAEL and about Shasta College’s efforts as a Lumina Foundation Talent Hub partner. 


CAEL: What inspired Shasta College to focus on adult students?


Mahar: Shasta College is the only public postsecondary institution in three counties, serving an area of over 20,000 sq. miles. So, we have a unique role in the community to not only help with traditional transfer students, but also to focus on workforce and economic programming and on adult students in the community. The region also has a higher percent of adults with some college but no degree, far higher than both the state and national averages, so we saw that we could benefit the community if we could engage more adults in the region.


CAEL: How did working with CAEL help Shasta College shape its offerings for adult students?


Mahar: We lacked a unified definition of the adult learner that properly encompassed all of the potential barriers such a student may have to overcome. Filling out the survey portion of the Adult Learner 360 alone gave us so many “Aha!” moments about the unique challenges adults and other nontraditional students have to overcome—and about the strategies we could employ to help them.

The results from the Adult Learner 360 student survey were also interesting, especially the differences between where we thought our adult student focus should be and where our student respondents said they would like it. It wasn’t technology issues or a focus on transportation like we thought that they cared most about, for example, but more course scheduling flexibility.


We used the results of the surveys to have more conversations, which not only helped us further identify the populations we were looking to support, but also highlight the low-hanging fruit in terms of things we could easily adjust that would have a significant impact for our adult learner population. Keeping the financial aid office open an hour longer is just one example of a small, painless change we could make that would significantly benefit adult students.


CAEL: Shasta County has been designated one of Lumina Foundation’s Talent Hubs. What role has Shasta College played in the development of this initiative? 


Mahar: Shasta College has a pilot program called ACE, which is perfect for students who work full-time. It’s a structured evening program targeted to students with some college and no degree, featuring eight-week classes, offered with a case management approach and supplemented with extended learning labs to better work with students and to give them training with new technology related to online learning.


The success rate for that group actually exceeds the success rate of the college as a whole. That experience informed our conversations with Lumina, and the person who ran the ACE program got a chance to work with Lumina to emphasize those best practices in the context of the Talent Hub initiative.


CAEL: To what do you attribute the growing recognition institutions nationwide have given to the adult learner?


Mahar: Certainly, there is an economic component—in the region Shasta College serves, for example, there is the economical imperative to support jobseekers who worked in timber and mills that were once common here but which increasingly have shuttered. Successful economic development in our community is reliant on our ability to help those people get the education they need to transition from those disappearing roles into new ones that are more common. These workers, who are typically older, have so much to give—we just have to figure out a way to engage them.