Back To All Learning Counts-RFI

Background: Millions more people need education and training beyond high school

Working to create a learning system that meets the nation’s need for talent and offers all Americans the chance for a better life

To build a more informed, prosperous country, millions more adults must complete education and training that leads to quality credentials beyond the high school diploma. Americans over age 24 already make up 40 percent of learners seeking degrees and certificates, and many of them are raising families and working full time as they pursue credentials. Yet adults who enroll in a college or university are far less likely than younger learners to complete a program within six years. Only 42 percent of adults who enrolled in 2011 completed a credential within six years, compared with 62 percent of those who started when they were 20 or younger. The fact is that many colleges and universities are simply not designed to serve adult learners.

Millions of adults are gaining high-quality college-level learning outside the college setting—in certification programs, in the military, and through their employers, for example. In fact, 3.3 million adults now hold industry-recognized certifications that provide family-sustaining employment.

The U.S. military is the world’s largest education and training provider, with over 1.3 million active-duty members gaining knowledge and skills every day. Each year, nearly 200,000 active enlisted service members will re-enter civilian life, often without a credential and with few clear pathways to further education and a degree.

As employers struggle to find and keep the talent they need, many are developing work-based learning programs or partnering with education providers to train their workers. In fact, American companies spend $177 billion each year on formal postsecondary education and training. Millions of adults are gaining college-level learning through their jobs, as well as through federally sponsored job training programs. The knowledge, skills, and abilities gained from these experiences have real value in the workforce, but this learning is rarely recognized by colleges and universities.

Lumina Foundation is committed to changing this. We’re working to create an equitable learning system that meets the nation’s need for talent and offers all Americans the chance for a better life through increased attainment of education beyond high school. The learner-centered, outcomes-focused system will expand opportunity by recognizing learning wherever and however it is obtained; by offering a wide range of transparent, high-quality credentials; and by connecting all forms of learning through clear pathways defined by competencies—that is, by what individuals know and can do.

To accomplish this goal, competencies must become the system’s commonly accepted currency. Some education providers are moving successfully toward this vision. They have used competency frameworks, strategies for assessment, and digital tools such as competency-based records to better facilitate and assess learning, regardless of where it was obtained. This also has led institutions to apply new business models that are built around competencies—and these new models often make programs more affordable for students. Providers, particularly colleges and universities, must move beyond assessing prior learning, which forces students to demonstrate learning that has already been validated, to fully recognizing learning from other sources and applying that learning toward degree and certificate programs.

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Strong respondents will be selected for a planning award and invited to complete a comprehensive proposal for implementation funding support.