Lumina Foundation seeks to increase the proportion of Americans holding a postsecondary credential to 60 percent by 2025, across all racial, ethnic, immigration, and income groups. Recognizing that this goal cannot be achieved through a focus on traditional-age college students alone, Lumina launched the Adult Promise initiative in 2017.

Over two years, the foundation made multi-year grants to 15 states to increase the success of adult students. The Adult Promise evaluation tracked progress by focusing on six important issues: state and institutional policy, outreach and recruitment, supports for adult students, financial assistance, equity considerations, and crisis response. This report presents evidence of the progress these state grantees made.


The experiences of Adult Promise states point to a set of strategic and tactical questions that must be addressed. This report’s findings are organized to address those questions. The report’s lessons and examples can guide stakeholders who seek to fund, design, implement, and sustain similar efforts to boost attainment among adult students.

Our findings

States used Adult Promise funding to build on existing attainment efforts. Several states, including Indiana and Maine, used it to enhance ongoing initiatives by adding specific supports and fostering collaboration. Others used Adult Promise to expand programming.

Supports were tailored to adult students’ assets and barriers. Adult learners benefit from flexibility and individualized supports. Evening, weekend, hybrid, and online course options can help adult learners balance competing demands.

States tapped public and private sources to ensure adequate funding. Adult Promise states identified and leveraged available state and federal aid and designed their programs to complement these public sources. They combined funding from foundations, employers, and other sources to address the varied costs faced by adult learners.

States looked beyond scholarships to serve adult students’ needs. Adult Promise states used creative means, such as microgrants and emergency funding, to address small-dollar expenses that can derail adult learners.