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All Education-Employment Pathways Lead to San Diego During Learning Summit

On February 9-10, CAEL joined the San Diego Workforce Partnership to host a learning summit. The collaborative retreat focused on how links among public workforce systems and postsecondary education providers can enable education-employment pathways that lead to success for adult learners. About 120 individuals representing nearly 40 colleges, universities, workforce innovators, employers, nonprofits, and other mission-aligned organizations attended the summit, which was sponsored by CAEL member National University.

Appropriately, the convening occurred within the adult-learner friendly confines of National University's Spectrum Business Park campus. The campus features flexible hours, accelerated formats, year-round enrollment, and inclusive transfer policies. It is also the site of the Center of Excellence for Veteran Student Success. 

Continuing the symmetry, just as adult learners represent a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, so did those who participated in the event in support of them. That's exactly what organizers were striving for. 

"It was a good mix of higher ed and workforce attendees," said Laura Heller, CAEL director of initiatives and summit presenter. Many were CAEL members taking advantage of a registration discount of more than 50%. 

Patricia Wallace, who also presented and is senior director of initiatives for CAEL, noticed that attendees were pleasantly surprised by the diverse assemblage of concepts and congregants. "It was a warm and inviting location with a magic mix of people that created exactly the type of positive, uplifting experience we want adult learners to have."

But what really set the summit apart was its participatory nature. From an intimate setting that kept events no more than a few doors apart to repeating workshops that made attending all of them possible, the event dismantled traditional barriers between presenters and their audience, sometimes blurring the lines completely.

Perhaps nowhere was this more evident than in Tracy Robinson's presentation about how the University of Memphis has crafted a successful postsecondary mix from the key ingredients of credit for prior learning (CPL), completion concierges, and corporate partnerships. 

Robinson had originally registered as an attendee. But her work as director of professional and continuing education at the University of Memphis, a CAEL member, and as a CAEL Ambassador has made her a fixture in the adult learning community. 

"We asked her, because she is doing such amazing work, if she would present for us on the first day," said Wallace, cognizant of the fact that presenters were eager not only to share their knowledge at the summit but to learn there as well. 

Fortunately, Robinson agreed. "I think we had four or five people stand up and give their testimonies about Tracy's session," said Wallace. "They were such heartfelt, amazing comments. People were really sharing how much they appreciated her being there and setting a good example for what others could be doing.”

“We designed all of the workshops so that instead of just being there and listening, the audience actually participated and got to contribute their own information and experiences into the dialogue," she added.

"Everyone was willing to collaborate and keep the conversation going after workshops were done because we were all willing to learn together," agreed Heller. "Everyone was coming at it from a different angle of knowledge and experience."

The gathering evidenced additional examples of the close-knit nature of the adult learning community. Given that the summit itself was dedicated to collaborative opportunities within the increasingly intersectional ecosystems of education and employment, it's not surprising that several presenters were involved in other CAEL initiatives. 

For example, two pilot sites of CAEL's grant-funded, national career-exploration system were represented. Employ Prince George's, a CAEL member, presented on how it and the Prince George's County Workforce Development Board have leveraged a braided funding model to go above and beyond traditional workforce development expirations. Rio Salado College, also a CAEL member, covered its use of partnerships to help noncredit adult learners access and succeed in college-level career training programs.

Feedback from the event is already helping to shape plans to make future summits even better -- but not necessarily bigger. "Some of the input we got was that it was great to have it be so interactive and small, because that makes for a better learning environment versus just going and listening at a mega conference," said Wallace. 

“Employers were interested in further exploring how the CAEL community can help them with recruiting and retention," especially in areas like career pathway mapping and workforce-postsecondary partnerships, areas of focus in CAEL's recent work for Employ Prince George's and others in attendance, added Heller. 

As CAEL continues to strengthen its national community of practice, regional events like the San Diego summit could offer new opportunities to spread best practices throughout diverse communities. The latest information about events and other news at CAEL is available at cael.org. Questions about how to become a partner in CAEL's nonprofit-driven initiatives can be directed to cael@cael.org.


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