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CAEL Awarded U.S. Department of Labor Grant of nearly $1.4 Million to Improve Equity in High-Demand Education and Career Pathways in Mississippi River Delta Region

CAEL will lead partnership among community colleges, high schools, and regional employers to align education and employment and better serve adult learners and other underrepresented students

INDIANAPOLIS – The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), a nonprofit organization that helps adult learners navigate on- and off-ramps between education and employment, today announced the formation of the Advancing Delta Talent initiative (ADT). ADT will focus on improving equitable economic development in seven persistent-poverty counties within the Mississippi River delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi. Within the ADT region, 20% or more of students don’t complete high school.

Close collaboration with CAEL institutional members Arkansas State University Mid-South (ASU Mid-South) and Coahoma Community College (CCC) will be integral throughout the three-year initiative, which is made possible by a Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities grant – a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Labor and the Delta Regional Authority – and supplemental support from Strada Education Network. The ADT focus area includes the college service districts of CCC, a historically black college (HBCU) in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and ASU Mid-South, a Predominantly Black Institution in West Memphis, Arkansas.

Although contracting industries have resulted in job losses within the ADT counties, CAEL labor market analysis has identified developing demand in growth areas. ADT will prioritize occupational training aligned with these findings in the healthcare, advanced manufacturing, and transportation sectors. ADT occupational training programs will be designed so participants can “stack” incremental credentials, which have immediate workforce relevancy, into progressive education pathways that support continual advancement along high-growth career pathways

Eligible to participate will be new entrants to the workforce, dislocated workers, and incumbent workers who are under-employed and want to move into full-time, higher-paying positions. These students will include economically disadvantaged individuals, people of color, veterans and their spouses, individuals who were formerly incarcerated (or nearing release), and high school students who may not graduate or don’t have a plan for next steps in their career journey.

“Although the ADT region faces persistent poverty today, its history is rich in perseverance, including a long legacy of civil rights activism,” said Earl Buford, CAEL president. “As educational attainment increases, the likelihood of poverty decreases. We welcome the capacity this collaboration creates to strengthen the foundations of economic mobility and community prosperity.”

“We are very excited to partner with CAEL and Coahoma Community College on this grant initiative, which is designed to increase and enhance the workforce training opportunities available to historically marginalized communities within the Delta region,” said Dr. Debra West, chancellor of ASU Mid-South. “ASU Mid-South will use these funds to expand, strengthen and support training opportunities in transportation and healthcare – two local high-demand sectors, both of which provide pathways to high wage employment.”

"We are pleased to partner with CAEL, which has a reputation of providing invaluable assistance to adult learners and the institutions that serve them,” said Dr. Valmadge Towner, president of CCC. “Coahoma Community College offers educational and job training services to enhance lives and uplift communities, and by teaming up with CAEL and ASU Mid-South, we amplify our institution’s capacity to empower our students and regional partners.”

ADT college support will feature CAEL assistance in building capacity for effectively serving adult learners. Resources will include recruiting and retention strategies for diverse student populations, aligning occupational programs more closely with employer needs, developing effective strategies to award college credit for learning from outside of the classroom, an assessment of the institutions’ policy and practices in serving adult learners, and technical assistance with hybrid and online learning.

College support will also include CAEL’s Credit Predictor Pro technology solution, which centralizes and streamlines the credit for prior learning (CPL) process for institutions and students. A national study confirms that CPL reduces the time and money students must invest in their education and increases the likelihood of degree completion. However, only about 10% of adult college students participate in CPL. Moreover, while CPL drives completion for all student demographics, lower-income adults, Black adult students, and community college students are even less likely to participate in CPL. Through ATD, CAEL, CCC, and ASU-Mid-South will increase equitable engagement in CPL.

To ensure a persistent and holistic focus on factors and outcomes important to student success, ADT will provide comprehensive support services as well as employment and work-based learning opportunities. The colleges will offer Student Navigators who will assess needs and connect students to resources including tuition assistance, laptops, broadband hotspots, books, uniforms, certification fees, travel and childcare vouchers, expungement and legal services, and other resources, including community partner services. Students nearing completion of their programs will receive employment preparation assistance, such as resume development and interview skills, and job placement assistance from faculty and workforce board partners.

Along with employers and other community partners, two workforce development boards are involved with the ADT initiative: the Workforce Development Board of East Arkansas and the Delta Workforce Development Area Board. By better aligning education and training programs with local employers, the public workforce system, and community-based organizations, CAEL expects improvements resulting from ADT to sustain well past its three-year operational period. As strengthened coordination and increased capacity create opportunities to scale ADT practices, education programs will be positioned to continually realign as necessary with labor market needs in targeted and emerging sectors so that marginalized residents in the region can gain the skills to connect to better employment opportunities and support healthy labor market participation.

About CAEL
Recognizing that adult learners are the backbone of the U.S. economy, CAEL helps forge a clear, viable connection between education and career success, providing solutions that promote sustainable and equitable economic growth. CAEL opens doors to opportunity in collaboration with workforce and economic developers; postsecondary educators; employers and industry groups; and foundations and other mission-aligned organizations. By engaging with these stakeholders, we foster a culture of innovative, lifelong learning that helps individuals and their communities thrive. A membership organization established in 1974, CAEL is a part of Strada Collaborative, a mission-driven nonprofit. Learn more at cael.org and stradacollaborative.org.

About Partners

Arkansas State University Mid-South
Arkansas State University Mid-South is a public two-year institution of higher education with an open-door admission policy, serving Crittenden County, Arkansas and the surrounding areas. The College is committed to enriching lives through high quality educational programming that fosters student success, workforce development, and lifelong learning. For more information about ASU Mid-South, visit https://www.asumidsouth.edu. 

Coahoma Community College
Coahoma Community College is a two-year, accredited, public, comprehensive institution of higher learning committed to serving as a catalyst for community and economic development in the rural, Northwest Mississippi Delta region and beyond. The college provides accessible, diverse, quality, equitable educational opportunities and support services that foster holistic growth in a student-centered learning environment. The college is committed to preparing students for college or university transfer and entry into a skilled workforce.

 This project was funded by a grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)'s Employment and Training Administration (ETA). It was created by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and does not necessarily reflect the official position of DOL/ETA. DOL/ETA makes no guarantees, warranties, or assurances of any kind, express or implied, with respect to such information, including any information on linked sites and including, but not limited to, accuracy of the information or its completeness, timeliness, usefulness, adequacy, continued availability, or ownership. 

CAEL received a U.S. DOL grant of $1,394,534 to implement this project (93% of total budget), with $105,465 (7% of total budget) covered by non-governmental sources.

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