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CAEL Pathways Blog

FIU, Founding Member of CAEL, Shares Its Perspective on 50 Years of Collaborating To Serve Adult Learners

In March 1974, the Cooperative Assessment of Experiential Learning Project, which would evolve into CAEL, was formed. While CAEL's membership network today includes all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, Canada, Jamaica, Singapore, and Ireland, its founding institutional members numbered only 10. Florida International University was one of them. To highlight the prime role the previous 50 years of collaboration have played in positioning it for the next half-century of success, CAEL is highlighting partners like FIU to help celebrate its golden jubilee.

FIU recently celebrated its own 50th anniversary, underscoring the complementary perspective it brings to CAEL’s semicentennial. In a recent conversation with CAEL, two FIU staff members shared their thoughts on the longstanding partnership between the two organizations as well as FIU’s individual legacy in the adult learning space.

Dr. Bridgette Cram is FIU's vice president, academic affairs: student success operations and integrated planning, and Lilian Solorzano is associate director of credentialing learning. Solorzano has been with FIU for nearly 17 years, while Cram is starting her 13th year.

Cram said FIU’s long history of serving adult learners has been ingrained in the practice in the university's institutional DNA. "We take our responsibility as an anchor institution in our community seriously, which also reflects our commitment to ensuring we develop pathways that support community members in achieving their goal of higher education," said Cram. "This is reflected in the work we have been doing since we opened, related to transfer student success – especially as it relates to being a transfer receptive institution, through initiatives like our Connect4Success pathway and articulation agreements that cover both A.A. and A.S. to B.A. and B.S. pathways."

FIU maintains a student-centered perspective that supports completion whether learners are beginning or resuming a credential pathway, said Cram. For example, the university has earned repeated national recognition for its dedication and commitment to the success of veteran and military-affiliated students. While some of these students may be enrolling in college courses for the first time, they often bring a wealth of training and experiential learning.

FIU’s enhanced wraparound support for military-affiliated adult learners includes an initial review of military credits as potential equivalents to courses that may satisfy FIU's core requirements and a dedicated office that provides programming and support services for veterans. More recently, it has implemented prior learning assessment to help adult learners leverage their professional experience and industry training into accelerated completion pathways.

Solorzano and Cram credit CAEL, especially the community of learning it offers members, for amplifying individual initiatives at FIU with decades of collective experience and expertise. "FIU's long engagement with CAEL has supported our efforts in continuing to improve and scale adult learner success initiatives at FIU," said Solorzano. "I have really enjoyed the broad network that being a member of CAEL provides. Particularly in the CPL/PLA space, CAEL's professional development and training have helped me, and my colleagues stay informed on best practices and evidence-based research that has helped guide our work."

"My favorite part about being a member of CAEL is that we have access to so many resources that really do champion the work behind truly supporting adult learners," said Cram. "The CAEL network of professionals is also a wonderful resource – through our participation in LASS and our recent project with APLU, we have been able to connect with colleagues who are on this same journey and can share best practices so that we can scale our work in this area.”

At 50 years and counting, CAEL and FIU's journey together has spanned many changes. One of the biggest to befall higher ed, said Solorzano, is the increased emphasis on online learning and the integration of technology into the educational experience. "This shift has provided students with more flexibility in terms of when and where they can learn, as well as access to a wider range of educational resources. This is particularly impactful for the adult learners who can have more agency over their learning as they balance many roles in their busy lives."

At the same time, the dynamics shaping the education-employment ecosystem were changing, "requiring a need for clear articulation and connection between higher education and industry to meet evolving needs, especially in careers related to technology," she said. "The connections between these stakeholders are critical, as all parties need to be responsive to these changes – and this has created more of an open mindset to really understanding how to move forward as we are all looking to achieve the same goal and have a real impact on the economic well-being of our communities through meeting the needs of industry."

Through it all, FIU has remained committed to student success, research excellence, and being a partner to its community. "In those 50 years, we have grown into a university recently ranked as the number 4 public university by the Wall Street Journal, among other rankings that recognize our commitment to student success and social and economic mobility, and we are also a Carnegie R1 Research University," said Cram. "We continue to be focused on these goals and developing programs and initiatives that directly align to them.”

Looking ahead to the next half century, both Cram and Solorzano are looking to the CAEL network to continue its growth as a hub of innovation and collaboration in support of adult learners. "Having a network of colleagues focused on developing innovative practices around PLA and competency-based education is truly how institutions will continue to succeed as our economic landscape continues to change," said Cram.

"Through the vast CAEL network, we can collectively address common challenges, such as finding ways to remove financial barriers for adult learners and standardizing adult learner-friendly practices like CPL/PLA across state governments to maximum collaboration within the systems and amplify the impact we can have on learners through CPL initiatives," added Solorzano.

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