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CAEL Pathways Blog

The Latino Adult Student Success Academy and Austin Community College: Perspectives From a Participant

This is part of a blog series on the second Latino Adult Student Success Academy.

Susan Warner-Sanchez, Ph.D., is the associate vice chancellor for instructional services at Austin Community College. She served as the college's grant manager for both the inaugural and continuing cohorts of CAEL's Latino Adult Student Success (LASS) Academy, offering a perspective on the Academy's progress to date as well as its future potential.

In fact, Warner-Sanchez sees the Academy as the catalyst of a culture of continual improvement, not a linear journey with a beginning and an end. "We have a lot of collaboration across a lot of areas," she said. "So many initiatives have a start and an end date, and this is not that kind of thing. We really want to integrate it into the whole college."

The first cohort, said Warner-Sanchez, helped ACC enhance its data gathering and analysis capacities. "We had this on our list of projects to address, but the grant is what gave us sort of the push to really scale it significantly. We hadn't really had a big focus on adult learners the way we had, for example, on early college or traditional students." The data "started changing our thinking about how we engage that group," she said, noting that the Academy also spurred the creation of a college-wide committee to explore ways to enhance adult learning.

In addition to technical assistance from CAEL, peer support was a source of innovation and inspiration. These benefits persist during the second cohort, despite its smaller size. "Because we are a smaller group, and we're all from Texas, there's a little bit more of a sense of community or belonging," said Warner-Sanchez. "We learned a lot from the first group, but it was also much broader. It turned out, I think, beneficial to have the bigger perspective first and now go into a more regional approach."

Today, about halfway through the second LASS Academy cohort, Warner-Sanchez says the collaboration is helping ACC ensure the sustainability of accomplishments by integrating them into systems. For example, the first LASS cohort raised credit for prior learning to a committee level. With technical support from CAEL, including the training of 20 faculty and staff in portfolio assessment, the committee implemented a CPL approach that balanced individual departmental academic expertise with more efficient and consistent internal processes. "We have the rules in place, which is very beneficial," said Warner-Sanchez. "Now we're reviewing the policy with CAEL and we're getting our CPL catalog ready to launch."

The ACC team has really showcased their commitment to building a culture of improved support for adult learners, said Rafael Pasillas, senior director of initiatives for CAEL, who has worked closely with Academy participants during both cohorts. With their enhanced data collection and college-wide committee, ACC was able to meaningfully advance their credit for prior learning efforts and impact during the year after the first round of the LASS Academy ended and the next round began. That shows that the Academy work wasn't limited to the grant period, but was intended to make a long-term impact. It was very impressive.

The new catalog will offer students much greater awareness about the various routes to CPL at ACC. "Everything that we do that's related to CPL should be in that section," Warner-Sanchez said. To further enhance the CPL process, she said ACC is planning to launch Credit Predictor Pro, CAEL's streamlining CPL technology, later this year. And next year, the college hopes to add a dedicated CPL coordinator. "Our goal is that all these things come together, and every student as they enter the process will know about the opportunities for credit for prior learning from day one."

"We want to get to the point where it's integrated in the culture and it's just what we do, with a continuous review of the processes and systems to make sure they're updated," said Warner-Sanchez. "Another key area is advising, because while the grant focuses on Latino learners and adult learners, we know that these things translate to all learners."

To be clear, she believes making adult learner-friendly processes second nature is a matter of viability for colleges as they face an increasingly challenging enrollment landscape. As more learners complete free certification and other training with third parties, such as major employers, "tools like Credit Predictor Pro become more important, because you need to collect all of that," she said. 

Amid the discussion about the role of higher ed, Warner-Sanchez rejects the word "competition." "There's enough for everybody," she said, arguing that the focus should be on staying relevant as an educational institution. Thats something she believes CPL can help ensure through its ability to bridge short-term credentials and traditional academic programs, which still offer substantial advantages in career pathways. 

Warner-Sanchez described the inaugural LASS Academy as "one of the best grant projects that I've ever been part of, and I've done a lot of grants over the years." With about a year left, the second cohort would seem to have a good chance of maintaining that standard. "This cohort is helping us take it to the next level with the technical support that they're going to provide," she said.

Also on par with the first cohort, momentum seems poised to persist beyond formalized activities. "When we had our first convening, we all agreed that we wanted to meet again before the next convening," said Warner-Sanchez. "That hadn't been planned, it just came out of our first meeting. We want to keep hearing from each other and being connected and forming this community."

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