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The Role of Education in Our National Security

Holly Zanville, Program Director, Lumina Foundation
The Pell Institute Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) 30th Annual Conference on America’s Future, Washington, DC

Good morning. It’s a great pleasure to join you today to share with you why Lumina is focusing on adult students and share some of the work that Lumina is doing in this area.

For those of you familiar with Lumina Foundation, you know we were not yet born 30 years ago when the first COE annual conference was held. In fact, we are just in our 11th year.

Lumina is now the nation’s largest foundation committed solely to enrolling and graduating more students from college, especially today’s students ─ the ever-growing number of low-income, first-generation, students of color, and adult students who constitute the “new normal.” As most of you know, we’ve been calling this increasingly diverse group of students, 21st century students.

All of our Foundation’s resources and energies are focused on achieving one ambitious but specific goal for college attainment, what we call “Goal 2025” or simply, the Big Goal: By the year 2025, we want 60% of Americans to hold high-quality college degrees and credentials. For those of you who would like to see the “picture version,” I’ve provided a handout with a graphic map of our BIG GOAL.

Today around 40% of Americans ages 25-64 hold college degrees (baccalaureates and associate degrees). That percentage has not changed in about 40 years—and that’s a problem, because it’s far too low to meet the nation’s future workforce needs.

So our work at Lumina Foundation is focused on increasing degree attainment substantially—we think the needle needs to move from the current 40% to 60% by 2025. To reach these numbers, the nation will need all types of students to succeed and in far greater numbers. This means that our strategies have to address both traditional-age students and adult learners.

We know from looking at the data that even if all students in high school graduate and go on to college and then graduate from college, we still cannot reach the 60% goal. So, adults who have not completed degrees yet are a vital part of a college attainment agenda.

At Lumina, therefore, we’ve been looking at the numbers in the adult population ─ to help guide our strategies. There are folks who never completed a high school diploma and are seeking a GED. There are folks who have a diploma or GED with no college. And there are people with some prior college credits but no degree. We all know that this is not a one-size-fits-all group ─ each of these groups requires a different set of strategies.

It’s the third group of adults that Lumina is especially interested in—the more than 37 million Americans who have ‘some college credits who never earned a degree’—or some 22% of all 25-64 year olds. And if you count the folks under age 25 with family and work responsibilities, who really are adults as well, the number is well above 40 million.

These are the kind of data that has led Lumina to target a key portion of our work then on returning adults.

But there is another important aspect to the Big Goal. Increasingly, we don’t think we can talk about degree completion without talking about workforce and labor markets. Again, our understanding of this issue comes from data.

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2018, 63% of all the nation’s jobs will require some form of postsecondary education or training. That would be a huge increase since the mid-1970s, when less than 30% of jobs required any education beyond high school. That’s a really astounding change, that less than 30% of jobs in the 1970s required any education beyond high school.

The Georgetown Center has also found that in virtually every major job category studied, more postsecondary education will be critical to job success. The Center is not saying that everyone will need a baccalaureate degree. But the data are saying that associate degrees, baccalaureate degrees and certificates that have value in the workforce—all will be critical to meeting future workforce needs. So the emerging message: we increasingly believe that our postsecondary education system is the human capital development system—the talent development system—for the nation.

The context I’m speaking about is a P-20 to workforce pipeline. Students have to move successfully from high school to college—and many will go to community colleges—and then to workforce, with many side trips in-between. It is these detours—and the on- and off-ramps that are especially interesting about adult learners, and that require special attention to the academic programs and support services for adults.

Here’s a bit more of the context that many of you likely deal with daily in your jobs working with returning adults:

  • More than half (60%) of all first-time bachelor’s degree recipients attend more than one college or university; 35% attend two institutions, and 16% attend three. So, attending multiple higher education institutions is a reality for many adults.
  • Nearly half of undergraduate students in the U.S. are enrolled in community colleges. And most states projecting rapidly growing numbers of high school graduates are heavily dependent upon community colleges as the entry point for students seeking the bachelor’s degree. There are two regions of the U.S. that are projecting declining numbers of high school graduates, and two that are projecting rapidly growing high school populations. The New England and Midwest regions are on the declining side—and that may be one reason why colleges in these two regions have been paying more attention to the adult learner populations.
  • The costs of inefficiencies in the transfer process (e.g., credits that are not transferable; excessive credits taken after transfer because community college credits are not applied to degree requirements) are borne primarily by states and students.
  • Financial aid is critical for low-income transfer students, particularly since most are transferring to higher-cost institutions.

All of these facts point to a clear bottom line: it’s critical that we pay attention to the on-and off-ramps that exist among educational institutions ─ high schools, community colleges, universities, and of course, employers.

Within this context then, what are key actions Lumina is taking in the adult learning area and what trends and best practices are we seeing?

There are several areas of work Lumina is supporting in the adult learning area—I’m going to share six that we believe are major in an adult learning strategy:

The first is having good planning data to inform policymakers and higher education decision-makers about adult degree completion. We’ve been paying special attention over the past couple of years to the creation of state data profiles on adult learners. As examples—we’ve supported the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) to complete 50 state profiles on adult learners, which I hope you all know about. Lumina has also completed state profiles in a report, “A Stronger Nation through Higher Education.” In this report available at our website, you’ll find data on what it will take for each state to reach a 60% college degree goal by 2025. Again, we hope you know what the numbers are for your own state to reach the 60% mark.

A second area is prior learning assessment. Lumina has supported recent research, conducted by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, that has found that prior learning assessments do help students complete degrees more quickly, and that saves both time and money. So, we think that prior learning assessment has to be a key strategy in an adult degree attainment agenda.

To that end, Lumina along with several other foundations are currently supporting CAEL and its partners, the American Council on Education and The College Board, to implement a virtual prior learning assessment center called LearningCounts. LearningCounts is designed to help students accelerate time to degree by assisting them to get assessed their knowledge and skills acquired through various avenues (military service, work in corporations, travel, home study) for potential college credits. It is also designed to help campuses serve more students seeking assessment of prior learning as more adults flock back and overload the colleges’ capacity to conduct prior learning assessments. It is serving employers and workforce boards interested in obtaining prior learning assessments for their employees and clients, respectively.

A third area is developing accelerated degree models. An example is the accelerated associate degree program at Ivy Tech Community College in Lumina’s home state of Indiana. Although this program doesn’t focus on returning adults, but rather on at-risk high school students, we believe that many of the lessons learned will be important for developing more accelerated programs for returning adults.

Another example of an acceleration model is Western Governors University-Indiana, a competency-based model for degree completers, serving primarily returning adult students. There are currently two more WGU-state institutions well along in the development—WGU-Texas and WGU-Washington. And WGU is in talks with a half-a dozen more states to establish this type of state partnership model more widely.

A fourth area is developmental education. We all know that for many adult degree completers, returning to college means overcoming past failures and fears of returning to college, remediation in essential skills, and developing effective study habits and time management.

Lumina is supporting some work in developmental education with an eye toward the needs of returning adults. One example is the developing work around new math pathways (Quantway/Statway) being supported by a number of foundations (led by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching). A chief goal is to help create a statistic-based college-level math curriculum that may serve various college majors better than the current calculus-based pathway and reduce the math logjams for so many students caught in the developmental education “Bermuda Triangle.”

A fifth area is targeting a group of adults called Near Eligible, folks who left college with either all or nearly all credits completed toward a degree but they never completed the degree. This work, known as project Win-Win, began as a modest pilot in three states led by the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP). This work has scaled up now to more than 90 institutions in nine states (Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Oregon, Florida, Michigan).

The work is focused on using statewide data systems to search records for students who left the institution with a specific number of credit hours (e.g., more than 60), then search the National Student Clearinghouse to determine if the student received their degree elsewhere, and if not, to move to a degree audit to determine which students meet the requirements for either a general associate or specialized associate degree (or in some cases, baccalaureate degree). The institutions then contact students deemed to be eligible to see if they can help them complete their degrees.

The sixth area is policy work. Increasingly, issues around adult learners and returning adults is on the policy plate at the federal and state levels especially.

There’s one more major area of our work in adult learning. In 2010, Lumina issued a Request for Proposals to increase adult degree completion—with the goal of supporting large-scale efforts to increase degree completion among adults who have earned some college credits but no degree.

Lumina received about 200 pre-proposals to the RFP, and we selected 19 projects to support through our Adult Degree Completion commitment of $15 million over the next four years. These efforts are primarily national, statewide and/or regional/metro in scope. They feature scaling-up strategies that include:

  • data mining to find adults who have prior college credits, recruitment and marketing campaigns to motivate adults to return to complete degrees,
  • advising and financial assistance services to returning adults,
  • efforts that accelerate progress toward the degree such as prior learning assessment, redesigned degree programs including online delivery systems, moving noncredit to credit options where possible, and implementing a statewide cooperative education model to better align college programs with employer needs,
  • strengthening partnerships among higher education institutions, employers, and municipal leaders to focus more attention on returning adults, and
  • working with workforce boards to better link their programs of short-term training with college degree and credential programs.

One of the 19 projects is being managed by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education—to develop a national learning network to support the Lumina Adult Degree Completion grantees plus others working on adult degree completion strategies. The Network is up and running and any of your institutions can go to the website to join the Adult College Completion Network.

So these are the major areas of work that currently constitute Lumina’s efforts focusing on adult learners. Let me conclude by underscoring what we’re thinking about adult learner work—and what we think this says about the future:

  • Many promising practices are under way to serve adult learners and many more are on the drawing board.
  • The demographic and workforce/labor market factors at play will assure that this imperative around adult learners continues.
  • The higher education infrastructure is already being redefined to better accommodate adult learners—through the rapid growth of for-profit and other providers and the moves being made in many states to centralize—or decentralize certain functions to serve adults better.
  • There is also movement to align workforce and the higher education systems more closely, with the acceleration of industry-based certifications into academic and career pathways—so that working adults have more on and off ramps to expand their education and training around their work.
  • The challenge is how to get to scale—to serve the large group of adults who need to complete degrees and certificates. And to institutionalize all these new programs and practices and policy developments within the traditional higher education structures so that they are not marginalized or ad hoc developments born out of a temporary necessity.

This is, of course, where you all come in—making it happen at your institutions for this critical group of 21St Century students.

Thanks for all the good work you’re doing to gear up to serve these students. I look forward to hearing your ideas and questions.

Kate Snedeker

A series of reports show investing in employee tuition reimbursement yields significant financial payback.
See Talent Investment series