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CAEL Newsroom

Building a Movement: CAEL Marks 50th Anniversary

INDIANAPOLIS – In the second week of March 1974, CAEL held its first meeting. Formally known at the time as the Cooperative Assessment of Experiential Learning, CAEL was housed at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey. This inaugural incarnation, comprised of 10 members, was funded for 16 months. Today, 50 years and more than 150 additional grant partners later, CAEL’s nonprofit membership organization boasts a network that spans all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, Canada, Jamaica, Singapore, and Ireland.

In 1974, according to a panel discussion marking CAEL’s 40th anniversary, the phrase “experiential learning” appeared in only one textbook. Rooted in a legacy of pioneering the once-revolutionary concept that the lived experience of adult learners is a source of college-level, workforce-relevant learning, CAEL has helped transform that concept from an obscure andragogical phrase into a roundly recognized instrument of equity within rewarding education-employment pathways.

“The worlds of learning and work have changed profoundly since CAEL’s founding,” said Earl Buford, CAEL president. “Out of that change a permanent reality has emerged: strategic alignment among educators, trainers, employers, and policymakers is not a luxury but a necessity for the success of adult learners, workers, and their communities.”  

While CAEL’s focus on adult and experiential learning has made linking learning and work a longtime mainstay of its mission, CAEL recently adopted a theory of change to channel and maximize its impact in the years ahead. The approach will leverage CAEL’s extensive and diverse membership network, which today totals nearly 5,400, to build regional and national partnerships that center individual adult learners and workers to generate systemic improvements in equitable economic mobility. Recent examples of CAEL’s initiatives include the Adult Learner Centered & Equity Framework for Community Colleges in a SNAP Network, Where it Starts: Build Better Careers, and the SEMI Foundation career exploration platform.

CAEL plans several commemorations this year to mark its 50th anniversary, culminating in its 50th annual conference, which will be held in New Orleans Oct. 30-Nov. 1. Registrations can be completed at cael.org

About CAEL
Recognizing that adult learners are the backbone of the U.S. economy, CAEL helps forge a clear, viable connection between education and career success, providing solutions that promote sustainable and equitable economic growth. CAEL opens doors to opportunity in collaboration with workforce and economic developers; postsecondary educators; employers and industry groups; and foundations and other mission-aligned organizations. By engaging with these stakeholders, CAEL fosters a culture of innovative, lifelong learning that helps individuals and their communities thrive. A national membership organization established in 1974, CAEL is part of Strada Collaborative, a mission-driven nonprofit. Learn more at cael.org and stradacollaborative.org.