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CAEL Pathways Blog

CAEL Unveils Updated Public Policy Priorities Informed by Diverse Panel of Member Practitioners

Since CAEL’s founding (50 years ago this month) as a pioneering advocate for the recognition and validation of college-level experiential learning from a diversity of sources, CAEL has championed public policies critical to the success of adult learners and workers. Since then, the systemic challenges and opportunities affecting education and employment outcomes have grown more complex. Ensuring that policy evolves accordingly is critical to realizing CAEL’s vision, advancing its mission, and maximizing its impact as outlined in its recently published theory of change, particularly on a systemic basis. 

To highlight the convergence of CAEL’s policy and impact priorities, CAEL has released an updated policy overview. CAEL called upon one of its greatest strengths – the diverse community of practice that comprises the CAEL membership community – to help formulate the priorities. Members of the policy advisory group included representatives from workforce boards, colleges, and universities, while employer representatives from CAEL’s industry-education partnerships, Energy Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE) and the National Alliance for Communications Technology Education and Learning (NACTEL), also had the chance to weigh in. Out of the group’s diverse experience and expertise emerged common issues affecting their capacity to serve adult learners and workers. The group weighed the potential of various policies to advance or obstruct efforts to meet adult learners where they are. These discussions informed the three overarching policy themes outlined in the priorities.

Centering the Adult Learner
As is evident by the legacy of lumping adult learners into the overbroad bucket of “nontraditional students,” older students have often been unprioritized by postsecondary education and training systems in favor of recent high school graduates. More recently, accelerating technology and other workforce disruptions have prompted a greater realization that lifelong learning, upskilling, and reskilling are vital to economic growth and community prosperity. Policies that center the adult learner and their unique circumstances are more effective at recruiting, retaining, and helping these students succeed.

“Many higher education institutional policies and practices are designed around and for the traditional college-age student, which often create barriers for adult learners,” said Sean Carey, interim associate dean of career programs at Wilbur Wright College. “The policies outlined here provide a guide to help institutions recognize nontraditional students through developing holistic and common-sense policies that ultimately benefit all learners.”

Enhancing Accessibility Through Affordability
Tuition is the factor most often associated with affordability. But there are many other facets to the issue of affordability that can make or break a college education. They include child care, transportation, and the dilemma of choosing work over school. The most effective policy solutions provide up-front aid to students rather than the more cumbersome reimbursement models.

“By expanding access to affordable education and training opportunities, these policy priorities can help bridge the skills gap and meet the workforce needs of rural industries,” said Dr. Amy Belcastro, a member of the advisory group and a professor at Southern Oregon University. “[The enhancing accessibility through affordability policy priority] can empower individuals to pursue new career paths and strengthen our local economy by ensuring businesses have access to a skilled and qualified workforce. This policy priority represents a commitment to economic prosperity and social mobility for rural communities.

Unleashing the Power of Transformative Partnerships
Building strategic partnerships among disparate but dependent stakeholders of the education-employment ecosystem is core to CAEL’s mission. Such partnerships enable systemic impact that transcends the scope of isolated individual efforts. Most importantly, they better accommodate adult workers and learners as they navigate the on- and off-ramps between learning and work. Policies that enhance these partnerships are important to sustaining equitable economic mobility for adult learners and workers as well as their communities.

“Over the last two years, we have expanded our partnerships with workforce boards, employers, chambers of commerce, local government agencies, and community-based organizations,” said Tracy Robinson, executive director of the Center for Regional Economic Enrichment at the University of Memphis. “Through intentional conversations, strategic alignment, and commitments to common goals, we are establishing a more cohesive ecosystem that can be navigated by all adult learners in our region, regardless of where and how they choose to start their journey. As a result of these expanded partnerships, we have received two large grants focused on upskilling our region and aligning several key funding streams like WIOA, SNAP E&T, and TANF. The ability to align and leverage these funds will have a major impact on our region and, most importantly, provide pathways to economic sustainability for so many who have been historically underserved and under-resourced.”

There are many recent examples of the CAEL community advancing these policy priorities. In Delaware and Indiana, CAEL has contributed to statewide guidance around expanding credit for prior learning. In addition, the Adult Learner Centered Equity Framework in a SNAP Network initiative, or ALCEF, is focused on increasing community college participation in providing SNAP Employment and Training services. Participation, including an upcoming half-day convening, is free.

More information about CAEL’s public policy is available at cael.org.


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