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From: Goldie Blumenstyk
Subject: The Edge: What Adult Students Need Now
I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around academe.
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I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle covering innovation in and around academe. Starting this month we’re making some changes to The Edge. I’ll continue to report, write, and produce this newsletter, but some weeks, it will lead off with contributions from my colleagues. This week, you’ve got me.
What adult students need now.
Undergraduate enrollment continues to fall, but the most notable demographic data point in this trend is that we’re seeing the biggest decline among students ages 25 to 29. From the fall of 2019 to this fall, that age group’s enrollment has dropped by about 12 percent, nearly twice the overall drop.
Given that, it seemed like the right time to check in with the leaders of two national organizations devoted to helping older students — Earl Buford, president of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, and Sallie Glickman, co-founder of the Graduate! Network — to hear what they view as the highest priorities right now for policy and practice.
Three themes from those conversations stood out to me: First, outreach by institutions and other organizations can still make a big difference in getting adults to consider college. Second, employer-sponsored tuition benefits aren’t very well promoted. And third, colleges themselves could still do more to encourage enrollment and completion.
On outreach …
For colleges to attract adults right now, “they need to give them a reason to want to come back,” said Buford, who assumed the helm at CAEL in April. In this economic climate, he said, colleges will need to ensure that they’re not only incorporating work-based learning, but also more tightly connecting programs with employment opportunities. Otherwise, college might not seem worth it.
Downward enrollment trends aside, colleges that make a real effort to recruit adult students are still getting traction, Glickman said. The Graduate! Network has been training “navigators,” for example, for a program called Michigan Reconnect that provides free community-college tuition to students age 25 and up and points them toward high-demand careers. Some 85,000 have applied to the program since it began in February, and more than 4,000 enrolled as soon as they could: last summer (fall numbers aren’t yet available). “If there’s a clear path,” said Glickman, “people will follow it.”
To be sure, the “free” part is no small thing. It also doesn’t hurt if your spokesperson is as chill as this producer/rapper for the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship for adults: His message: “Tell them B. Stille sent you. I promise you, they’ll hook you up.”
On employer-sponsored college programs …
While several high-profile companies have recently expanded their support for employee college programs, tuition benefits are still broadly underused. Glickman said she wishes public officials would encourage more employers to create such programs and “make that transparent” to their employees. Surveys by the Graduate! Network have found that many employees at companies that offer the benefits aren’t aware of them or don’t know how to access them.
CAEL, too, sees this as a challenge. The organization is developing its own strategy — not yet public, Buford said — designed to get more national employers to support educational options for their employees.
On promoting enrollment and completion …
Many students are put off from going to college because they can’t afford the application fees — or can’t get access to an old transcript because they owe a debt to a college they once attended, Glickman said. It’s the old “stranded credits” issue, which I’ve covered often in this newsletter. Last week, at a conference for state policy makers, I heard about an interesting approach: In Kentucky, Hazard Community and Technical College’s Forge Your Way Forward program forgives institutional debts held by its returning students if they maintain a C average and attend regular coaching sessions. That’s similar to Wayne State’s Warrior Way Back program, but with more emphasis on counseling.
And on a basic level, Glickman told me, colleges could still “make it easier to apply.” But enrollment is just the start. With all the attention policy makers have been paying to cutting tuition with so-called College Promise programs (as my colleague Eric Kelderman recently reported, more than half of states and many localities now offer some type of free tuition), support for student services seems to be suffering, Glickman said. At the institutions enrolling students with the greatest needs, she said, “staff-to-student ratios are really high.”
Glickman and Burford both said they’d love to see more colleges offer prior-learning assessments to give academic credit to students for what they already know — and to promote that as an option. All too often, said Glickman, students “don’t know to ask for it.” That’s a key priority for CAEL as well. In fact, this week, as the organization meets in San Diego for its annual conference, it plans to roll out a new set of tools designed to help colleges and state systems better serve students with some form of PLA.
But what about the “missing men”?
To me, the second most notable demographic trend in the enrollment data is how much bigger the declines have been for men than for women. From what I’ve been told, that is expected to remain just as pronounced when the National Student Clearinghouse releases updated enrollment numbers this week. And according to a recent Pew survey of adults without a bachelor’s degree, more men than women said the reason was they “just didn’t want” to get one. To my surprise, neither Glickman nor Buford said a lot about higher ed’s “missing men.” But perhaps a project that New America is just beginning will. It’s designed to help community colleges engage or re-engage students whose educational plans were derailed by the pandemic.
Still want more on serving adult students? Check out the many findings in these reports from the consultancy Mathematica. They highlight lessons learned from some of the 15 states where the Lumina Foundation supported Adult Promise programs from 2017 to 2021.
Here are some education-related stories from other outlets that recently caught my eye. Did I miss a good one? Let me know.
- Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate are reintroducing legislation to provide benefits to the descendants of Black World War II veterans who were unable to use the housing and education offerings of the original GI Bill because of discrimination at that time, NBC news reported.
- A proposal slated for a vote soon in Congress would increase the size of the maximum Pell Grant by $550, but it would exclude students attending for-profit colleges. As Politico reported, advocates for those institutions are pushing back, arguing that the measure unfairly targets the low-income students who attend their colleges.
- “Educators trying to purvey accurate information about the climate crisis to their students often run up against a deeply entrenched culture of climate denial in their own communities,” the author Katie Worth wrote in an essay in The Washington Post. And, she said, that’s even true when they’re teaching students who are themselves “climate refugees.”
Updates from people and organizations recently featured in this newsletter.
Global Citizen Year, which used the pandemic to create an online, global alternative to its overseas in-person experience, was recently awarded $12 million from MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett to expand that option. ... Danielle Allen, the professor who shared her ideas for renewing American democracy with me earlier this year, was chosen to deliver yesterday’s Kluge Prize address at the Library of Congress. ... Braven, a nonprofit that offers for-credit training to help low-income students land “strong jobs,” will extend its services to the entire sophomore class at Spelman College beginning this spring. ... 2U Inc. and edX on Tuesday finalized the previously announced acquisition by 2U of edX’s MOOC platform and other assets, and 2U announced that Anant Agarwal, edX’s founder and chief executive, would be joining 2U as chief open education officer.
Join us this week at the Chronicle Festival.
It’s not too late to take part in the three-day Chronicle Festival, which includes some terrific guests in conversation with several of my colleagues. Today’s theme is all about “understanding the students of 2022 and beyond,” and includes my much-promised “shark tank” — with Bridget Burns (executive director of the University Innovation Alliance) and Greg Fowler (president of the University of Maryland Global Campus) weighing on the ideas for improving student success from three brave volunteers. (Also Scott Carlson, a frequent pinch-hitter on this newsletter, will be talking with the author Nathan Grawe on how colleges can navigate enrollment challenges as they face the demographic cliff of traditional-aged students. )
I’ll also be back for the “designing the future” day on Thursday, when I’ll be exploring some creative — and fun — ways college leaders can spark innovation, with the head of Stanford University’s d.school, Sarah Stein Greenberg (remember her, and her call for organizations to welcome “a little oddness”?), along with Dean Chang, an associate vice president at the University of Maryland. Please do check it out. Even if you missed Day 1, focused on “renewing the value of college,” have no regrets. You can still watch that, and the rest of the festival, on demand. And if you need to step away from the livecast, follow the #ChronFest hashtag on Twitter, where this newsletter’s editor, Sara Lipka, will be live-tweeting from the @Chronicle account.
A scheduling note: The Edge will be taking a break next week for Thanksgiving. It will be back in your inboxes on Wednesday, December 1. Hope you all have a restful (and delicious) holiday.
Got a tip you’d like to share or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have been forwarded this newsletter and would like to see past issues, find them here. To receive your own copy, free, register here. If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.
Goldie’s Weekly Picks
Covid's Toll on EnrollmentAfter losing nearly a quarter of its enrollment, Southwest Tennessee Community College figures out how to move forward.
International Enrollments Tumble Below One Million for the First Time in Years, and Covid Is to BlameThe number of international students at American colleges declined precipitously during the Covid-19 pandemic, with new enrollments tumbling 46 percent in fall 2020, a steeper decline than for any other student group.
Too Fast, Too Soon?
A College Found Explosive Growth Through Its Online Programs. Now Its Accreditor Has Put It on Probation.Eastern Gateway, in Ohio, was faulted for unchecked growth, without a strong commitment to maintaining academic standards.