Partnering to Better Serve Adults

Our colleague from across the building, Patrick Lane, joins the Frontiers blog today to share the resources from the recent meeting of the Adult College Completion (ACC) Network.  The ACC Network aims to unite organizations and agencies working to increase college completion by adults with prior college credits but no degree in a collaborative learning network.  We welcome your comments about the ways your institution or state is reaching out to adult students.

A manufacturing CEO, a community college representative, a state higher ed staffer, and a non-profit leader walk into a room. Beginning of a joke only higher education folks might get? No…but it was the starting point of the recent meeting of the Adult College Completion Network as these panelists focused on the importance of adult degree and certificate completion and identified numerous barriers and promising strategies, bringing their diverse perspectives to bear on the issue.

Selected members of WICHE’s Adult College Completion (ACC) Network  gathered in Chicago last month to discuss progress in reaching and reengaging adults with prior college credit. Funded by Lumina Foundation, the ACC Network launched two years ago to bring together higher education agencies, institutions of higher education, non-profit organizations, workforce agencies, and others who are focused on helping these students return to postsecondary education to complete a certificate or degree.

The opening panel, bringing together a diverse set of leaders focusing on the importance of adult degree completion and cooperation between various sectors in Illinois, established an underlying theme for the meeting: developing and maintaining effective partnerships is a crucial component of increasing adult certificate and degree completion.

Partnering to Better Serve Adults

As Network members delved into promising strategies for serving adults with prior college credit in a number of areas—prior learning assessment, the usability of web portals, stackable certificates, just to name a few—the partnership theme came up quite often. Building these partnerships is easier said than done, but they are still feasible. No matter if an institution focuses on online learning or bricks-and-mortar classes, Network members emphasized that partnerships are crucial at every step of the path from reaching out to an adult with prior college credit to seeing him or her complete a credential.

As an “outsider” to postsecondary education who had little involvement in adult completion efforts until last year, Warren Young, CEO of the manufacturing company Acme Industries, stressed that building partnerships starts with a simple invitation. After being invited to discuss the workforce needs of the industry in and around Chicago, he has become involved in providing employment linkages across the sector for students completing programs at area colleges.

Other notable examples of the importance of partnerships came up throughout the meeting on a wide range of issues:

  • The Rutgers Center for Women and Work and the National Association of Workforce Boards have been working to expand degree completion in five states—Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oklahoma, and New Jersey—by strengthening relationships between workforce and higher education systems. Their goal is to expand collaboration by identifying individuals entering the workforce training system who are a small number of credits away from a credential, and making it possible for them to use workforce funding and support systems to complete that certificate or degree.
  • The National League of Cities is working with cities across the country on efforts to increase local degree attainment rates. Part of this includes a focus on how cities and mayors’ offices can partner with higher education institutions and others to provide clearer pathways for adults with prior college credit return to complete their degrees or certificates.
  • The Graduate! Network has expanded from its beginnings in Philadelphia to include partner organizations in Chicago, Memphis, Greensboro, and Connecticut all focused on working with institutions of higher education, the business community, diverse government agencies, organized labor, faith-based organizations, and others to identify and remove barriers that prevent adults with prior college credit from returning to complete credentials.
  • The University of Maryland University College has expanded learning options available to veterans and military students by partnering with the US Department of Veterans Affairs and the military. Efforts including providing courses on military bases overseas and providing options to transfer military credits to UMUC degree programs.
  • The University of Wisconsin System is working to develop a system-wide program for granting credit through the assessment of prior learning. Rather than simply implementing a wide-ranging policy, however, system staff are working hand-in-hand with faculty at institutions to gather input and build support for the new program.

These are just a few of the many different projects highlighted at the meeting.

Serving Adults Has Special Challenges

With families, work, life experience, academic history, and financial needs, adults face additional hurdles in reaching their educational goals.  This is especially true when colleges, non-profit organizations, and financial aid structures often focus on the post-high school populations. Network members also focused on some of the ongoing challenges in serving this population.

These include:

  • Identifying appropriate marketing and outreach messages and techniques. Those working to attract adults with prior college credit back to postsecondary education have found different levels of success in their marketing and outreach efforts. Some data suggest that a broad marketing campaign by the Georgia Adult Learning Consortium may be helping to increase the number of adult students there, while the Graduate! Network found that traditional marketing was not effective and testimonials and news stories about graduates were proving more effective.  The ACC Network will continue to work on identifying promising practices and which types of outreach may be most effective in different contexts.
  • Providing appropriate services and support to all segments of the adult learner population. Network members identified many sub-groups within the population of adults with previous college credit. Individuals in these groups may require different support structures and academic opportunities to reengage them. The subgroups include those who are currently employed but seeking a better job, the unemployed, low-income adults, veterans and those currently in the military, and older individuals who may need to re-skill to compete in today’s workforce. There must be a variety of strategies, programs, and new policies to reach and effectively serve these diverse groups.
  • Developing reliable data sources about adults with prior college credit.As more institutions, states, cities, organizations, and others focus on adults with prior college credit, more data are becoming available that can help improve services to these students. Projects employing outreach efforts are gathering data on response rates to communications campaigns; institutions are collecting data on completion and persistence rates for these students; and some efforts are even collecting employment and workforce data for adults who return and complete certificates and degrees. It is difficult to use these data, however, to draw general conclusions about the types of programs and services that are most effective. With greater attention being paid to this population, data must be shared and used broadly to inform policy and provide more efficient services to returning adults.

The Sharing Continues

These are just a few of the lessons and issues covered at the recent ACC Network meeting. In the coming weeks, the ACC Network will be detailing other conclusions from the meeting and continuing to disseminate promising strategies being developed and implemented across the country by those working to increase credential completion by adults with prior college credit. For more information about the network, or to join, please visit www.adultcollegecompletion.org or contact Patrick Lane at plane@wiche.edu or 303.541.0266.

Patrick Lane

Project Coordinator

WICHE Policy Analysis and Research

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