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CAEL Pathways Blog

A Catalyst for Institutional Change: Embedding Career Relevance and Connections in the Student Experience

In October, CAEL released the ALLIES Framework: A Change Management Approach for More Effectively Serving Adult Learners. CAEL's "Adult Learner Leaders for Institutional Effectiveness" (ALLIES) framework guides institutions through the change management process for designing and implementing strategies and programs that seek to equitably elevate success for a diverse population of adult learners. The Framework contains a series of planning and operational domains through which institutions can more effectively support today's adult learners. In this new framework, the focus is as much on the process for becoming an adult learner-focused institution as it is on the programs and services that are most visible to the adult learner as they make decisions about where to enroll.  The ALLIES Framework represents an evolution from the original publication of CAEL's Ten Principles for Effectively Serving Adults.

Last month, CAEL hosted a workshop for members that examined Career Relevance and Connections, one of 10 domains within CAEL's ALLIES Framework. CAEL knows this area of focus is of great importance to our members and higher education and workforce professionals broadly. The workshop explored how applying its principles can ensure adult learners have access to resources and support to link their education and career goals. Two directors from CAEL's initiatives team, Darrah Mugrauer and Kari Shafenberg, led the workshop along with Susan Lane, Ed.D, a CAEL Ambassador and experienced higher education leader at the national, regional, and state levels. The workshop focused on the following objectives:

  • Reflection on current adult learner experience in postsecondary education.
  • Investigation of how career centers can prioritize and cater to adult learner needs.
  • Examination of how postsecondary institutions, employers, and career resources can engage in partnerships.
  • Exploration of how to best support faculty and staff who serve adults in this capacity.

The lively workshop included over 140 members from a variety of postsecondary institutions, associations, systems, and workforce development organizations serving in student services, administrative, instructional, advising, and workforce/employer roles.

Unsurprisingly, discussion during the workshop echoed Framework findings, underscoring that adult learners value academic programs and institutions that:

  • Facilitate their sense of agency and control over their future.
  • Empower them to persevere, supporting them holistically along their journey at their pace.
  • Are goal-driven and open multiple doors to future success.
  • Promote affordability via choice and transparency on cost.
  • Provide career connections in the classroom and in work-based activities that prepare them for job placement and advancement.

Additionally, adult learners are motivated in their educational pursuits by current career outcomes (such as advancement and wage increases) and career changes (leading to higher wages, professional growth, and new job pathways).

Career Centers are an effective way for institutions to meet such needs. The workshop examined their role as an important resource for both students and faculty. For example, they can help identify the right credentials needed to align with students' professional goals, develop skills, and provide an opportunity to grow their professional networks. Career Centers also can offer access to advising, assessment and planning, as well as apprenticeships, internships, and job openings that are crucial to adult learner needs. Moreover, Career Centers can support faculty by providing resources and tools that can be embedded in course syllabi, as well as access to employers that can provide important perspectives on linking education to career pathways.

The key points the workshop highlighted underscored how important Career Centers are to higher education and the workforce. The adult learner's lens on the value of higher education is challenged by the negative perception that degrees have little value, are not work-related, are too expensive, or don't fit with family and/or work responsibilities. Ensuring that explicit career connections and resources are provided, via a dedicated and resourced Career Center as well as embedded in coursework, can challenge that perception by revealing the opportunities and successes that await learners who want to advance their careers and livelihoods. Expanding upon that, higher education can position itself as being in service to adult learners to assist them in developing skills, providing training, building confidence, exploring interests and passions, and establishing a discipline of lifelong learning that all lead to success.

Finally, focusing on career resources and connections as central to the adult learner experience can catalyze institutional change by reimagining career integration, engaging employers in curricula to establish career pathways, crosswalks, and more. This benefits not only current students, but alumni, employers, and the broader community.

The full report, as well as an on-demand webinar and additional materials can be found here. CAEL members can access the recording of the workshop, and a toolkit designed to support the application of this framework, on caelCONNECT and our Member website. Additional workshops for CAEL members that center on other areas of this Framework are currently being developed. This Framework will guide CAEL's work with institutions, and will inform new tools and resources for our members and partners. 


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