Grants totaling nearly $4 million awarded to five states

INDIANAPOLIS–Lumina Foundation has awarded multi-year grants to five states that are addressing talent development by making clear financial commitments to serving adult students through an effort known as Adult Promise. A total of nearly $4 million in Lumina funding will be awarded to these states within the next three years to target adults, who are an underserved population in higher education.

The first cohort of Adult Promise states includes Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Washington.

This grant-supported effort, in partnership with State Higher Education Executive Officers, builds upon Lumina-supported work by these higher education leaders and the Education Commission of the States. Both groups collaborated to design a model program for states interested in focusing tuition-free college (often called “promise programs”) on adult students, sharing nonpartisan research on such targeted outreach, and raising overall awareness about Adult Promise models.

Nearly one of every six U.S. residents between the ages of 25 and 64 has some education beyond high school but has not yet earned a degree. Many other adults have not yet started toward an initial credential such as a certificate, certification, or associate degree.

“Adult students are so critical to developing the talent our country needs,” said Jesse O’Connell, Lumina’s deputy director for finance and federal policy. “We want to help these states explore ways to find and talk with adults about affordable education options. We also are helping states address financial and other barriers to adults pursuing education after high school.”

Labor market data show adults without college degrees, workforce certificates, or other quality credentials are most likely to struggle. However, many earn low enough wages that they are eligible for federal and state assistance, including financial aid that could be enough to cover their tuition and fees at community colleges.

But this message is poorly communicated and understood. And while nearly two out of five of today’s students are older than 25, many institutional and state systems are not designed to meet their needs. That’s where the marketing of a financial promise can help.

“We know from research that ‘promise programs’ provide an easily understood, highly motivating financial commitment that reaches students where they are,” said Zakiya Smith, the foundation’s director of finance and federal policy.

“Along with the financial commitment to cover tuition costs, these five states are focused on figuring out the critical supports and services that are necessary for adult student success and how to effectively message them to potential students,” said Andy Carlson, principal policy analyst at SHEEO.

With Lumina’s funds, these states will: focus on adults, create online tools to address non-financial needs such as academic advising, outline strategies for addressing disparities in educational outcomes by race and ethnicity, offer guided pathways to help ensure higher completion rates, and publicly track, share, and evaluate the effectiveness of these efforts. Lumina hopes that these projects will inspire other such efforts throughout the country.

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Lumina envisions a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. The Foundation’s goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.

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