States Shifting Focus to Adult Students, Improving Education of Workforce

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff

As states grapple with a growing gap between education and employment, increased attention and financial resources must be directed toward adult students pursuing postsecondary degrees and certifications, according to a recent webinar hosted by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) and the Education Commission of the States (ECS).

The webinar focused on recommendations in CLASP’s fall 2016 report Redesigning State Financial Aid to Better Serve Nontraditional Adult Students, which included a model financial aid policy for states that would:

  • Place a priority on need-based aid;
  • Be inclusive of all non-traditional students, including adult learners;
  • Be viewed as a strategic supplement for need-based aid to address unmet need; and 
  • Include flexible application, disbursement, and enrollment policies to address the needs of adult and non-traditional students.

The webinar included presentations on how two states – Indiana and Minnesota – are working to boost postsecondary attainment among adult students, and the resources they are providing to assist them.

Sean Tierney, associate commissioner for policy at the ‎Indiana Commission for Higher Education, said that there are an estimated 750,000 Hoosiers with some college credit, but no degree. Recognizing the need for a more educated workforce, Indiana policymakers last year decided to focus on getting these students back into college and on their way to completion.

Through partnerships with employers, communities, and institutions, the You Can Go Back campaign utilizes financial incentives and outreach campaigns to identify and enroll adult students in certificate or degree programs. Over the last year, the campaign sent over 270,000 targeted emails and made over 30,000 phone calls to adults who had least 25 percent of the credits needed to complete their degree encouraging them to re-enroll in college and educating them about state grants specifically for adult learners.

According to Tierney, about 9,000 of the students who were targeted by the campaign enrolled in fall 2016, 5,500 of who received the state’s Adult Student Grants.

Facing a similar education gap, Minnesota policymakers also have ramped up their efforts to educate adult students. Meredith Fergus, manager of financial Aid research and SLEDS coordinator at the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, said that adult students would be critical to achieving the state’s education attainment goal that 70 percent of adults will have a certificate or degree by 2025. The state is currently at 60 percent.

According to Fergus, about one-third of Minnesota’s 264,000 undergraduate students are non-traditional students. And while the state has historically included non-traditional students in financial aid policies and programs, there needs to be a greater focus on providing aid targeted to them and their needs, such as grants for students with children.

In his budget proposed this week, Gov. Mark Dayton (D) included an additional $62 million for state higher education grant programs, as well as increases to programs that assist students who face housing and food insecurity. The next step, Fergus said, is to work on how to define “affordable” higher education in a world where “free college” is an increasingly popular concept.

“We love the idea” of free college, Fergus said, “but we know that in an era of limited resources, we really can’t make that happen.”


Publication Date: 1/27/2017

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