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Career Advising Takes Center Stage in Latest CAEL, KC Scholars Work

In 2016, CAEL entered into partnership with CAEL member KC Scholars, a Kansas City-based 501(c)(3) that supports learners with scholarship funding and wraparound student supports intended to assist with retention and degree attainment. In 2019, the partnership expanded to include the Urban Education Research Center (UERC). UERC is a research center based within the University of Missouri-Kansas City, also a CAEL member, and engages with partners across the region to promote best practices in education to improve the lives of students and their communities. Now in its third iteration, this partnership between KC Scholars, UERC, and CAEL included a collection of eight regional institutions who participated in CAEL’s Adult Learner 360 (AL 360) in the spring of 2022, providing a broad scope of challenges, successes, and opportunities for institutions to best support their adult learners.

Based on results from the AL 360s, as well as goal setting from the KS Scholars participants in 2021, all partners convened in Kansas City in February 2023 to discuss next steps and specific actions institutions can implement this calendar year. Four CAEL team members attended this summit, including two from Philadelphia, just two weeks before the biggest football game of the year. Fortunately, the shared goals of the group kept everyone focused and engaged on the question at hand.

Among the issues CAEL discussed with the group, there was a special focus on the role of career advising for adult learners. From recent CAEL research, we know that adult learners consider the role of the career center from a different lens than their traditional-aged peers. Whereas a traditional first-year student may see the career center as a resource for resume writing or interview practice, many adult learners are already members of the workforce, some well established in their careers before returning to postsecondary education. Additionally, adult learners often see their pursuit of education as a means to a professional end, either changing directions or developing professionally on their current path. This results in seeking out institutions who will provide them with career advising, learning that directly applies to their profession, and relevant experiences. With that in mind, how can career centers meet the specific needs of adult students, and how can they make better use of the existing resources that their adult learners may not be aware of?

Adult learners who are already employed may forgo traditional career advising, such as placement recommendations and networking events. Career services centers can provide those adult learners with access to labor market data, such as job demand, prospective salaries in open jobs in the student’s field of study, and advising toward career growth. Students may associate career advising with job placement services, rather than career planning, resulting in students bypassing the career services center and missing out on the opportunity to develop a long-term career plan and identify the academic program that supports it. The subsection of adult learners most likely to take advantage of career services options are those students who self-identify as first generation (Clinefelter, Aslanian, & Magda, 2019), especially for networking and internship opportunities. Though many other adult learner student groups are less likely to engage in networking events, growing a professional network is a priority for adult learners. Engagement from their career services office to highlight opportunity and value of these events has substantial impact for students. 

Despite their educational and experiential advantages, internships can be challenging for students who work full time. Not only are schedules harder to manage, but many students express concern that their current employers may see internships outside of their company as an indication of intention to leave. Additionally, fee structures around internships can be off-putting for students who are already employed and gaining applicable experience, possibly at a higher level of engagement than an internship would allow. Recognizing these challenges and identifying other work-based learning opportunities, microinternships, or other on-the-job training experiences allows adult students to receive the same benefits as their peers, while acknowledging the requirements of their daily lives. 

Many existing resources found in career centers are useful and valuable to adult learners. Specifically, career advising early in an academic program can ensure that students are seeking out the right credential that aligns with their professional goals. If an institution offers stackable, or microcredentials that might demonstrate successful development over time, that can keep students motivated and employers engaged in their students’ success. Additionally, learners who have been in the same position or industry for many years are still likely to benefit from resume review, proficiency testing, aptitude tests, and providing information about possible career pathways in promising (e.g., those with good employment prospects in the long term) industries. A student who has been in one role for five or more years may not have updated their resume recently. Are these students acknowledging their professional and academic successes on their resumes, or identifying ways in which they engage with their academic peers? Career centers have the tools to assist these learners in better highlighting their learning, their professional successes, and their development skills.  

During the KC Scholars summit, the participating institutions shared many exciting practices they were initiating or planning for their adult learners. Changing schedules to ensure free days for interning, requiring engagement with the career center, and adding orientation-style courses in career services were among the initiatives already underway throughout the region. While addressing the needs of these learners requires a specific intention, the resources of most use to them can assist any student who is considering their future professional pathways. Career services does not require a straight line from academic program to job placement, but rather allows and encourages students to make connections from their learning to their careers, and vice versa. They are able to recognize and identify areas of overlap, of interest, and of possibility. With guidance, resources, and tools available at the career center, adult learners are able to make the important career connections addressed in the ALLIES Framework. Through this work, institutions can demonstrate their commitment to student success, both during and after credential achievement. Focusing on career development and resources serves students and institutions, and will continue to be a critical component of adult learner support. 

If you are interested in learning more about CAEL’s career center recommendations as they relate to the ALLIES Framework, please consider signing up for our upcoming webinar on March 6 here.


Clinefelter, D., Aslanian, C., & Magda, A. (2019). Online college students 2019: Comprehensive 

data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: Wiley edu, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.learninghouse.com/knowledge-center/research-reports/ocs2019-research-report/.


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