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CAEL Pathways Blog

An Achievable Completion Initiative at Elizabethtown College

CAEL institutional member Elizabethtown College (Etown), in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, is known for meeting adult learners where they are whether they are coming or going. Thanks to a step-in, step-out program, students are never out of sequence at Etowns School of Graduate and Professional Studies (SGPS). Seamless on- and off-ramps between education and employment engender lifelong learning and signal to students that there are many pathways to credential completion, which can be traveled at the pace that works best for them.

For most adult learners, that pace is limited by two very scarce resources: time and money. Etown SGPS has long worked to conserve both. Its programs, which range from microcredentials to graduate degrees, are online and accelerated. Learners can save even more time (and money) thanks to student-friendly credit for prior learning and transfer policies. So when Etowns SGPS had the opportunity to participate in the ACHIEVE project, a Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry-funded challenge program that covers students costs to complete their degrees, It aligned perfectly with the colleges commitment to serving adult learners, said Marcy McCarty, associate dean of the SGPS.

ACHIEVE, which is led by the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board, kicked off last month, offering scholarships to near completers who re-enroll and finish a credential. The challenge component comes via a completion deadline of June 30, 2024.

Additional ACHIEVE partners include Millersville University (also a CAEL member), the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, the Lancaster Chamber, and PA CareerLink Lancaster County. Students need not have completed prior credits at any of the three partner institutions to enroll under ACHIEVE. However, they must be residents of Pennsylvania.

The credential they complete, whether a certificate or an undergraduate degree, needs to align with a state list of in-demand occupations. All Etown SGPS associate degree programs and four of its six bachelor programs qualify. Students who wish to complete a different qualifying program or a certificate are routed to one of the other two participating institutions during the application process, managed by the workforce development board.

ACHIEVE limits participation to students who were last enrolled in a credential program no earlier than 2021. Thanks to the SGPS online reach, they could be located anywhere in the state.

To reach them, the college is running both an email and direct mail campaign to former students who were within the two-year window and 30 credits of completion. Having conducted re-enrollment campaigns before the grant, Etown had a head start in targeting them. To complement that engagement, the college is also working with the Lancaster Chamber on regionally focused social media and digital media advertising campaigns directed toward prospective students who may qualify for the program.

The college chose a 30-credit cutoff to ensure the ACHIEVE challenge was indeed achievable, said McCarty. The grant program stipulates a 90% completion rate and detailed outcome reporting. We want to make sure that anybody who's eligible for the program is also successful in completing it within the allotted time period.

McCarty noted that the SGPS inherent adult learner-friendly features, including the aforementioned CPL and transfer policies, make the one-year turnaround more feasible. We run five-week accelerated courses in our undergrad program. So, students can take three courses in the fall semester, concentrating on one course at a time without having to double up.

ACHIEVE brings additional layers of adult learner support to the completion cause. While balancing work and family commitments are also major factors, In most of these cases, students are not able to complete their degree because they just don't have the finances to support it, said McCarty. In addition to covering all tuition, ACHIEVE funds child care, housing, and transportation resources. It also funds books and other educational materials needed for courses. Students can even use ACHIEVE to pay off balances that were outstanding from their last enrollment.

Moreover, the grant provides for a full-time advisor dedicated to Etowns ACHIEVE students. Participants in the grant have a career counselor who can take a look at where they are right now, whether they're unemployed or currently employed, and how to get them into that in-demand occupation, said McCarty.

Employment status is among the factors ACHIEVE counseling considers in developing individualized plans, she said. For example, working students would typically be discouraged from doubling up on accelerated courses during a subterm. But, From an advisory standpoint, we talk through it and make them really understand what that workload may look like and if they might have more time available to complete their coursework, she said.

McCarty is targeting a 95% completion rate for Etown ACHIEVE students. But if students dont complete, or even fail to qualify, their experiences will still be valuable. The state has encouraged reporting information about ineligible students and those who are unable to complete the program. Such data could provide insight into how much time is allotted for completion or how recent a students last enrollment must be, perhaps increasing eligibility under future initiatives, said McCarty.

McCarty said the ACHIEVE grant has allowed them to budget for 35 students. However, given that some returners are as close as three credits to credential completion, she expects Etown will be able to accommodate more.

Judging by students reactions at this early stage, there should be ample demand. Ive talked to a handful of them personally, and they are super ecstatic that they're able to come back and complete their degree within this grant, she said.

ACHIEVEs ability to provide holistic financial support has made it unique, McCarty explained. While Etown has been part of other grants that help develop industry-prioritized education-employment pathways, she praised ACHIEVE for bridging the financial gaps which, despite student interest, often stand in the way of meeting that demand.

Even though they're working, a lot of students have multiple financial responsibilities and rely on tuition reimbursement or some other funding, said McCarty. ACHIEVE really supports the nature of adult learning, allowing students to further their career.

Etown is known for providing individualized paths for people, and that's why this grant made a lot of sense to us, McCarty added. On the other side, if we can help support the state and the Workforce Development Board, it would be great to continue to partner with them for similar programs and continue to grow that relationship.

It's a pleasure for CAEL to share the great work taking place within the CAEL membership community. Members can stay apprised of the latest membership news at caelCONNECT, by subscribing to updates, and by participating in membership and other CAEL events. Interested in publishing your own adult learning success story? Contact cael@cael.org.


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