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CAEL Pathways Blog

Adapt and Pivot: Talking Strategy on the Eve of the Inaugural Latino Adult Student Success Convening

In August 2018, CAEL launched an ambitious new project to improve outcomes for adult Latino students in higher education. The Adult Learner 360 Academy for HSIs is an ongoing initiative to work with 15 Hispanic-serving institutions from across the country:

Austin Community College, TX
Bronx Community College, NY
California State University-Sacramento, CA
Estrella Mountain Community College, AZ
Florida International University, FL
Lehman College, NY
Phoenix College, AZ
Richard J. Daley College, IL
South Texas College, TX
Texas A&M University-San Antonio, TX
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, TX
Union Institute & University, OH
University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, TX
University of Wisconsin-Parkside, WI
West Los Angeles Community College, CA

Funded by generous support from The Kresge Foundation, Ascendium Education Group and Greater Texas Foundation, this three-year project, in partnership with Excelencia in Education, will help the participating HSIs identify areas where they can enhance their services. CAEL will provide professional development, tools and research to support the participants.

As part of the program, the partner HSIs will come together annually with CAEL and Excelencia in Education for the Latino Adult Student Success Convening (LASSC). With our first convening for the initiative on the horizon later in February, we asked our funders what drew them to this project and why they're involved in the cause to support working adult Latino students.



CAEL's vision is that every adult has a pathway to lifelong learning and meaningful work. The HSI Adult Learner 360 Academy places an emphasis on pathways for Hispanic and Latino adults. Can you share how this project supports your own mission and vision?

The Kresge Foundation: Kresge's overall mission is to expand opportunity for low-income people living in cities. For Kresge's education program, we approach that mission by supporting work that helps underrepresented students achieve postsecondary success, and we're striving to close equity gaps along the way.

Currently, only 22 percent of Latinos aged 25 or older have at least an associate degree, compared to 46 percent of whites in that age bracket-this gap must close. To do so, we need to both encourage underrepresented students, including Hispanics and Latinos, to enter college right after high school, and we must also find ways to bring adults with some college and no degree back to campus to graduate.

Hispanic-serving institutions need support to focus on the needs of adult Latino students, whose postsecondary experiences are different from students transitioning directly from high school to college.

Ascendium Education Group: Ascendium Education Group is a nonprofit that helps students reach the higher education goals that matter to them. Our work tackles barriers to success that prevent people from achieving their dreams-especially those from populations historically underrepresented in postsecondary education. Minority-serving institutions play a critical role in the higher education landscape to elevate opportunity.

Greater Texas Foundation: Our vision is for all Texas students to be prepared for, have access to, persist in, and complete a postsecondary education. We put particular focus on traditionally underserved students.

To meet the educational goals of our state-for 60 percent of students to have postsecondary credentials by 2030-we need to engage and support adult learners and Latino students. This work provided an opportunity to support a particular student population while having positive implications for all students.

As a funder, what drew you to this project? What makes it unique?

Greater Texas Foundation: We appreciate CAEL and Excelencia in Education as two leading national organizations focused on student success for traditionally underserved student populations. As we work to keep students on a pathway, we must also provide opportunities for students to re-enter educational pathways in supportive ways. Working with the HSI Adult Learner 360 Academy provided an opportunity to connect Texas institutions to a national community of practice for institutions that are prioritizing adult learners.

The Kresge Foundation: Many colleges in recent years have experienced declining enrollments due to an improved economy. Coupled with demographic changes that result in fewer traditionally aged students, these institutions are now frequently recruiting adult students. The best institutions look to improve how they serve those students and seek to close racial equity gaps.

That's why this partnership between CAEL and Excelencia is so necessary in this moment. It offers the right support at the right time. The Adult Learner 360 tool will give the participating institutions insights that we know will improve their approach to serving the unique needs of adult students, and the convening and cohort aspect of this work will provide fertile ground for learning across institutions. We believe this will heighten everyone's impact when they return to their own campuses with new ideas and approaches.

Ascendium Education Group: This project is timely given the dual pressures of overall declining college enrollments and the imperative to better serve today's diverse student body. The adult student population is one that warrants special attention given their unique experiences and needs.

This project is notable in the Ascendium portfolio for its collaborative design. The continued partnership leverages both CAEL's expertise with adult learners and Excelencia's expertise with HSIs.

As a funder, we were drawn to the opportunity to help build a strong community of practice. While this initiative currently funds 15 HSIs, we believe it will enable both CAEL and Excelencia to extend the impact to more of their networks in the future.

Lastly, it is a great bonus to co-fund with our peers in education philanthropy, The Kresge Foundation and Greater Texas Foundation.

Thinking about the future, from your perspective, what will the ecosystem surrounding adult Latino students look like going forward, and how can the higher education community prepare? 

Ascendium Education Group: To better serve adult Latinx students, we need to understand who they are and what they need. We believe the key is to identify opportunity gaps and address them with evidence-based practices.

The field is moving in the right direction by emphasizing high-quality educational experiences-it is not enough for HSIs to enroll Latinx students without strategies to help them reach their goals. The higher education community has experimented with many academic and personal supports, and the next step is to ensure postsecondary institutions integrate those supports holistically to meet the needs of every student.

Greater Texas Foundation: Nontraditional students are the new traditional students. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with strong partners and institutions that are implementing changes to support students from many different backgrounds and contexts.

The Kresge Foundation: While attainment rates have improved, equity gaps have stubbornly remained. As more and more jobs require postsecondary education, we must remain committed to closing those equity gaps if we want a society in which people of all socioeconomic backgrounds succeed.

The demographics of who goes to college have changed for good; colleges must adapt and fulfill their missions by meeting the needs of those students here today and those coming tomorrow, which will include greater percentages of Hispanic and Latino students, as well as an older student base. They must continue to adapt and pivot to understand their students and find ways to serve them well. We're proud to support this program as it works to reach that goal. 

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