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CAEL Newsroom

CAEL Awarded Additional Grant Funding for Research Guiding Foundational Improvements in Adult Learning

CAEL Awarded Additional Grant Funding for Research Guiding Foundational Improvements in Adult Learning

INDIANAPOLIS – The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) is pleased to announce additional funding in support of its research and design of a modern Framework for serving adult learners. The Framework, which was announced in May, will help postsecondary institutions and systems better meet the needs of adult learners within today’s digitally dependent education environment and skills-focused labor market. Guiding the Frameworks approach is a collective vision of a new learning ecosystem sustained by dynamic links between learning and work, new forms of credentialing, and much-needed equity imperatives. The new funding will add specialized research on barriers that adults who have never enrolled in postsecondary education face.

The latest funding comes through a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation with a matching grant from Strada Education Network. The Framework for Effectively Serving Adult Learners study is also made possible by grants from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation matched by Strada Education Network. Additional partners include the Education Quality Outcome Standards Board (EQOS) and Northeastern University’s Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy.

The study has convened 10 top-performing programs in the adult learning space to analyze, inform, and amplify comprehensive models for adult learner success. These participants include higher education institutions as well as nontraditional education and training providers that use short-term learning experiences to prioritize adult degree completion and/or work-relevant training:

  • Bay Path University
  • Capella University
  • Code Fellows
  • College Unbound
  • Columbus State Community College
  • CUNY School of Professional Studies
  • Mississippi State University
  • Monroe County Community Schools Adult Education
  • SUNY Empire State College
  • Wichita State University

“As communities everywhere strive to recover from the pandemic, there is growing national urgency around sustaining effective and equitable education-employment pathways for workers and adult learners,” said Earl Buford, CAEL president. “Even as colleges face declines in traditional enrollment, tens of millions of adults lack any postsecondary credentials, while millions more need to upskill or reskill as workforce changes accelerate. Adult learner success is an ethical and an economic imperative.”

College completion still correlates strongly with higher lifetime earnings, but formal degrees are not the only way to advance along postsecondary pathways. Short-term credentials, like certificates and badges – especially those that can stack into additional educational advancement – can help reskilling or upskilling workers access new and rewarding employment opportunities.

Polling shows three-quarters of adults who want to build new skills prefer to do so outside of a four-year institution. CAEL’s research will provide a new understanding of these learners’ preferences — a critical step to building innovative, individualized models that meet their needs,” said Charles Koch Foundation Executive Director Ryan Stowers. “We’re excited to support CAEL’s efforts to create new pathways for lifelong learning.”

Regardless of how they help learners prepare for the workforce, postsecondary educators face a critical role. A shortage of skilled workers threatens the broader economy and limits social mobility. Even before the pandemic, more than 50 million people in the U.S. held positions not aligned with their competencies.[1] More than 30 million American adults completed some college but not a degree, while more than double that number never attended college[2]. People of color are overrepresented among adults 25 years and older who lack postsecondary credentials,[3] and they have suffered disproportionately from employment upheavals.[4] 

The 10 institutions involved in the study are participating in focus groups, surveys, and data analysis. CAEL will integrate the research findings into the new Framework for Effectively Serving Adult Learners, which also will support the technical assistance it provides through partnerships with institutions that want to improve adult learner enrollment, persistence, and completion.

The Framework study also will update CAEL’s Principles for Effectively Serving Adults. Since their introduction in 1998, the Principles have guided education providers and state systems committed to an inclusive model of education that meets the diverse needs of post-traditional learners amid ever-shifting education and employment landscapes. In addition to offering colleges and universities top-level standards for assessing institutional practices, the Principles inform much of CAEL’s program support services. Although they have always been grounded in research and have undergone periodic adjustments, their focus has been helping institutions support adult learners through diverse but traditional postsecondary education pathways. The Framework study affords the opportunity to apply a comprehensive, modernized review to the Principles, ensuring they are future-oriented with enhanced relevance for education and training providers, policymakers, investors, and philanthropic organizations.

Additional experts from the CAEL community will join subject matter advisory and adult learner focus groups throughout the study. CAEL expects to announce initial results by the end of the year.

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, we foster a culture of innovative, lifelong learning that helps individuals and their communities thrive. A membership organization established in 1974, CAEL is part of Strada Collaborative, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower all learners — and those who serve them — by providing the critical resources, educational support, and career experiences that lead to equitable education and employment pathways. To learn more about CAEL, visit cael.org.

About the Charles Koch Foundation
The Charles Koch Foundation provides grants to support a wide range of inquiry on issues including postsecondary education, criminal justice and policing reform, free speech and open inquiry, foreign policy, economic opportunity, and innovation. To learn more visit www.charleskochfoundation.org.

About Strada Education Network
Strada Education Network is a new kind of nonprofit social impact organization dedicated to improving lives by forging clearer and more purposeful pathways between education and employment. Our approach combines innovative research, thought leadership, strategic philanthropy, mission-aligned investments and a network of affiliate organizations. Together, we work to better serve the millions of Americans seeking to complete postsecondary education and training, gain clear value from those experiences, and build meaningful careers. Learn more at stradaeducation.org.

About the Center for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy (CFHETS)
CFHETS is an applied research center that builds on Northeastern University’s heritage of more than a century of leadership in experiential learning and its network of more than 3,000 employer partners. Drawing on the expertise of Northeastern faculty and affiliated industry-based scholars, the center studies the intersection of the world of work and postsecondary education – impacting the marketplace through the development of new models that better integrate and eliminate the gap between work and learning.

About the Education Quality Outcome Standards Board (EQOS)
EQOS is an independent, 501(c)(3) that establishes consistent definitions and corresponding metrics to measure student outcomes across postsecondary education and training programs. The EQOS Quality Assurance Framework helps providers collect, report, and validate their student outcomes data. EQOS also helps systems (states, curated program recommendation platforms, lenders, etc.) develop processes for using outcomes data to drive decisions.