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CAEL Pathways Blog

Making Higher Education More Accessible

In 2014 at the CAEL International Conference CAEL's past CEO and President Pamela Tate delivered her vision for CAEL when it reaches its 50th anniversary. She envisioned a time in the not-so-distant future where adult learners would no longer face the barriers they currently face. She saw a time when most colleges and universities will recognize learning from all sources; a time where adults from all socio-economic classes can build the skills they need for a lifetime of employment; and a nation that would recognize that adults are as important as traditional students in the workforce pipeline are.


Diverse Issues in Higher Education recently published an article, How to Make Our Institutions More Accessible, that offered some simple ideas that can help to make Pam's vision into a reality for even more adults. These include simplifying the financial aid process, understanding that adult students may find traditional financial aid services to be formulaic and not prepared to meet the needs of financial independent students. The author, Trinity College's Angel Perez, suggests that, with a little extra effort, creativity and student-centeredness, students can be set-up for success.

CAEL often talks to colleges and universities about simple, inexpensive fixes such as offering extended hours for financial services so that adults who are employed full-time can still have the benefit of working with a trained financial advisor. Another simple fix that CAEL suggests is that adult-focused institutions include a website page that lists scholarships and grant opportunities for adult students who have some college but no degree and are often unable to remember their high school GPA.

The article also suggests that strategic support systems need to be rethought and revised to meet the increasingly diverse needs of incoming students. CAEL's own data gathered from Adult Learner 360 survey results have identified the need for accessible, high quality and affordable dependent care. If we want students to complete their post-secondary degrees, institutions need to meet them where they are. Perez suggests that the 'just because that's how it's always been done' approach will not work anymore.

The article also talks about the importance of taking a 'cradle-to-grave' approach to learning. For adult students, this may be one of the most important mental models. 'Admissions should be working in close collaboration with academic advisers, student affairs professionals, counseling services, and even career offices to set students on a path to success.' CAEL believes that the Ten Principles for Effectively Serving Adults are indivisible. Strengthen even one area of support, such as having clear learning outcomes for each class or program, and you can reduce barriers in another area of the student experience such as linking learning to career planning. CAEL also supports the idea of lifelong learning. Research shows that learning throughout your life sustains civic engagement, leads to an increased sense of agency among employees, plays an important role in equity and inclusion, and supports resilient individuals, families and communities.

We can get to the next level and achieve Pam's vision of a world where all adults are able to reach their educational goals and use their skills to have meaningful careers. CAEL offers expertise, initiative support and technical assistance, workshops, and research to augment these and other approaches to fostering institutional change that can increase enrollment, support persistence, and meet completion goals for all adult students.

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