System Perspectives on Serving Adult Learners in the Wake of the Pandemic
CAEL is fortunate to have a diverse membership. Members range from individual contributors to entire organizations and even statewide postsecondary systems. Together, they complete the CAEL community. Since COVID-19 has had such a broad impact, I thought it would be valuable to get a system-level postsecondary perspective on some high-level topics during the pandemic-era “new normal.” Eric Fotheringham, Ph.D. and Staci Grasky, Ed.D., agreed to participate. Eric is director of strategic academic initiatives at the University of North Carolina System (UNCS), and Staci is executive director of academic program development for the Maine Community College System (MCCS). MCCS is Maine’s two-year college system. Serving over 17,000 students and offering nearly 300 programs, it encourages lifelong learning and emphasizes technical, career and transfer opportunities. UNCS encompasses North Carolina’s four-year public institutions, including 16 universities and the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the country’s first public residential high school for gifted students. The system enrolls nearly 250,000 students.
I asked Eric and Staci the same set of questions, and they offered diverse perspectives. A few takeaways stood out to me. The COVID-19 crisis, while not changing overarching goals, requires making adjustments to the paths we take to get there. Varied histories and diverse student populations have placed individual institutions at different points in the ever-evolving effort to serve adult learners. Building bridges to reengage with the considerable number of people with some college experience but no degree is a priority. And, probably most important: adult learners have an outsized role in the success of not just postsecondary systems but the communities they serve throughout their states.