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This post is written by Brian Sorenson, Content Strategist and Writer at CAEL (The Council for Adult & Experiential Learning).

At the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), our goal is to help underserved populations of students like adults—a group defined by the National Center for Education Statistics as postsecondary students aged 25 or older—complete their journeys through higher education. Aside from the obvious moral value of increasing access to higher education, enrolling and supporting adult learners makes good financial sense for institutions as well. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, in the last two decades there have been more than 31 million Americans with some college credit under their belts but without a degree or credential. What institution wouldn’t want access to this untapped group of would-be students?

Clearly, there’s an impressive number of prospective students on the table and any shrewd enrollment effort would be wise to target adults. Yet at many institutions, policies are still developed around the needs and preferences of the diminishing demographic of fresh-faced recent high school graduates. Adults, the thinking goes, have too many needs that would require a costly paradigm shift to solve to be worth it.

In fact, our experiences working with institutions have shown us that that couldn’t be further from the truth. Using our Adult Learner 360 survey tool, we work with colleges and universities to discover disconnects between what their adults students say they need to prosper and the current support institutions provide. From those conversations, we uncover myriad solutions that almost any institution can implement, with little expense, to start encouraging adult student enrollment and completion.

These solutions include:

  • Expand financial aid, advising and tutoring office hours past 5 p.m. to accommodate students’ work schedules
  • Offer financial aid options that are not contingent on recipients being full time students, a requirement which would preclude most working adults
  • Build relationships with local employers, who are increasingly likely to offer tuition benefits to employees
  • Provide online learning opportunities wherever possible, perfect options for adult students who, through work or family responsibilities, may have inconsistent schedules that make traditional classroom learning options impossible
  • Award credit for prior learning, which allows students to receive credit for demonstrate prior learning and which has been shown to encourage adults to take more classes

Want to discover more best practices for reaching adults? Join us November 13-16, 2018 for the CAEL 2018 International Conference. CAEL will bring together practitioners in higher education, employers, and those in workforce and economic development to share the latest best practices on how institutions can improve their support of the adult learner. Visit CAEL.org/conference for information on programming or to register.


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