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CAEL Pathways Blog

View from a CAEL Ambassador and Member of the CAEL Policy Advisory Group - Susan C. Lane, Ed.D.

By Susan C. Lane, Ed.D.

It is rare in your professional life that you can create policy direction around an area in which you have been invested for so many years. This is exactly the opportunity I had via my membership in CAEL’s Policy Advisory Group. 

For most of my career in postsecondary education my work has focused on advancing success for the adult learner, in traditional and nontraditional settings, degree programs, certificates, and workshops. In each institution, public, private or for-profit, and in each role from staff, faculty, to president, I struggled to move institutional and academic policies and practices to open doors and create pathways rather than expand hoops and barriers.

I was thrilled to join CAEL’s Policy Advisory Group and to set a focus on the very things within the power and capacity for an institution, program, and leaders to address. While I have long supported larger goals of increasing financial aid or changing state or federal polices to favor the adult and part-time learner, I have maintained there are many barriers that institutions and individuals can change and just get rid of to support success for the adult learner.

CAEL’s policy Centering the Adult Learner identifies these areas, offers solutions, and most important, creates visibility and a community for so many committed individuals. Those who may be working in small teams or alone no longer have to feel that they are working in isolation, or that their effort at reducing a single barrier doesn’t matter. They are now part of a community advancing success for the adult learner, and their work matters.

Centering the Adult Learner

Adult learners have often been an afterthought when it comes to postsecondary education and training, as our nation has for too long maintained laser focus on the seamless high school graduate to four-year college pipeline. That conversation is changing with today’s ever-changing economy, increasing automation and AI, and the growing recognition that lifelong learning, upskilling, and reskilling are necessary for economic growth and opportunity. Policies that center the adult learner and their unique circumstances are more effective at recruiting, retaining, and helping these students succeed. 


  • Supporting adult learner navigators at institutions, one-stop job centers, and other appropriate locations such as libraries and community-based organizations. Navigators help prospective adult learners navigate the education, workforce, and support services ecosystem to recruit more students and set them up for success with holistic support. 
  • Supporting increased usage of credit for prior learning (CPL). At the federal level this could mean allowing the Pell Grant or Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to be used to cover assessment fees. At the state level, this could look like issuing guidance on how other entities (workforce boards, employers) can partner on CPL and supporting institutions in implementing CPL (fee waivers, transfer agreements, articulation agreements, etc.). 
  • Encouraging seamless attainment of postsecondary credit and/or credentials for experiential learning, including apprenticeship, on-the-job training, military experience, immigrant experience and education, etc. and facilitating standardization of those credits across postsecondary institutions. 
  • Increasing support for and adoption of Integrated Education and Training (IET) models in career-focused postsecondary education and training programs. 
  • Removing punitive barriers to re-enrollment, such as transfer holds for unpaid fees. 
  • Providing a second chance for adult learners in regulations for Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), including establishing additional ways for adult learners to appeal SAP-related loss of awards. 

CAEL's full policy overview is available at cael.org.

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