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New coalition to advocate for adult college students

Campaigning for competency-based learning, more flexible financial aid, and other higher ed policies
University Business, May 2017
Adults need more flexible higher ed programs that allow them to do college coursework remotely and at their own pace and at any time. (GettyImages.com: Kali9)
Adults need more flexible higher ed programs that allow them to do college coursework remotely and at their own pace and at any time. (GettyImages.com: Kali9)

A newly formed advocacy organization hopes to smooth the process for busy adults looking to attend college. The Coalition for Adult Learners will campaign for competency-based learning, simplified and more flexible financial aid, and other federal policies and institutional practices.

“Most colleges are still organized around their historic mission of serving traditional learners,” said Bob Hansen, CEO of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, during a March webcast of the coalition’s launch at the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

“This has to change for many of these institutions to remain sustainable, particularly the regional public and private colleges and universities that are so dependent on adult learners.”

Examples of support for adult learners

  • Montgomery College in Maryland combined its ESOL programs, which many adult learners need, with basic skills classes such as math and English literature.
  • Trinity Washington University runs a full associate degree program at a city complex that houses a range of academic, recreation and arts programs for underserved and low-income students.

The current pipeline of traditional-age students is not large enough to fill the 65 percent of jobs that, by 2020, will require a postsecondary degree, Hansen added.

Adults need more flexible programs that allow them to do coursework remotely and at their own pace and at any time.

“Fall-spring-and-summer term doesn’t work anymore,” John C. Cavanaugh, president and CEO of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, said at the event. “Support services, financial aid and tutoring and registering for classes—we can’t close those offices at 6 p.m. anymore. We need them 24/7.”

Adult students need more guidance in finding these types of programs and in navigating financial aid, said Becky Klein Collins, associate vice president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

The coalition will urge policymakers to expand Pell Grants for adult learners and to strengthen broadband access in local communities. It will also push federal and state lawmakers to incentivize higher ed construction programs with the expectation that the Trump administration will fund a national infrastructure initiative, Collins said.

The University Professional and Continuing Education Association and the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning formed the coalition with the Online Learning Consortium and The President’s Forum.

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