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How Prepared Is Your Institution to Serve Adult Learners? Take CAEL’s Readiness Quizzes to Find Out

Providing effective education to adult learners has always been an ethical imperative. The success of any postsecondary institution has always been tied to the success of its students – of any age. Today, thanks to workforce and demographic trends, the “common sense” of enrolling and graduating adult learners is becoming even clearer.

Adult learners (25+) make up about one third of postsecondary students (based on fall 2019 NCES data)[1]. If we expand our understanding of the adult learner experience beyond a prescriptive age range and include parameters such as parenthood, financial independence from parents, and full-time employment, “nontraditional students” make up about 75 percent of enrollment in this country[2].

On top of that, fall 2020 undergraduate enrollments were down nearly 7 percent overall and more than 13 percent among community colleges[3]. A WICHE report predicts that, beginning in 2026, a long-term period of decline in the number of high school graduates will begin. Meanwhile, a January 2020 report found that more than 53 million people in the U.S. held positions not aligned with their competencies.[4] The projected rate of occupational displacement is only accelerating as a result of the pandemic[5]. More than 30 million adults in the U.S. have received some college credit but no degree, and twice as many have no postsecondary educational experience[6]. Blacks, Hispanic and Native Americans are overrepresented among adults 25 years and older who lack postsecondary credentials.[7]

Adult learner enrollment, retention, and completion policies will be critical not only for the success of postsecondary institutions and the communities they serve but for equitable economic prosperity across the country. So it’s no wonder that more institutions are taking a closer look at how well they are serving adult learners. A quick and easy way to do that is to complete CAEL’s recently revamped Institutional Adult Learner Readiness Quiz. Responding only takes a few minutes, and you’ll receive instant feedback and links to additional resources based on your results.

With awareness growing about the urgency of supporting adult learners, it’s also no surprise that awareness is growing about credit for prior learning (CPL), also commonly known as prior learning assessment (PLA). Repeated studies and institutional practice have confirmed that CPL is a catalyst of adult learner, institutional, and workforce success. CAEL also recently refined our readiness quiz that gauges institutions’ capacity for recognizing diverse forms of college-level learning. It, too, provides instant results and actionable steps.

As a reminder, CPL and all-around excellence in adult learning are perennial subjects at our annual conference. I’d love to discuss them with you in San Diego! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the quizzes and that they help inspire you to even greater success in adult learning. If you have any questions about them, feel free to contact me at scampbell@cael.org.


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