States exploring options for adult college promise programs

The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) and the Lumina Foundation are partnering to increase graduation rates among students over the age of 25 by piloting and implementing “free-college” programs in five states. These adult college promise programs—whose design varies from state to state—will provide free tuition, financial support, and customized services for students in Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Washington, reports Education Dive.

Adult learners key to meeting states’ workforce goals

In a departure from most promise programs’ focus on traditional-aged students—limits intended to make program costs more manageable and predictable—this partnership will expand outreach efforts to adult learners, many of whom have full-time jobs, familial responsibilities, and few opportunities for federal grants.

While acknowledging that prospective adult students are harder to identify and recruit than high-school students, a recent SHEEO report says that keen targeting efforts by adult college promise programs can greatly raise adult learners’ enrollment and graduation rates. And states that effectively tap into that population can accelerate their progress toward workforce and college attainment goals: Education Dive reports that students over age 25 account for 40 percent of all undergraduates.

Addressing adult learners’ unique needs

SHEEO emphasizes that beyond recruitment, adult college promise programs must focus on addressing these learners’ unique needs. Programs like Tennessee’s TNReconnect effort have seen success by accommodating the work and familial time commitments of veterans, service members, and returning and first-time adult students. Adult learners are exempt from certain activities Tennessee requires of younger learners served by its traditional-age promise program, such as completing community service hours, meeting regularly with mentors, and maintaining certain GPAs.

Above all, SHEEO recommends that states pursuing adult college promise programs develop a simple, clear message for promoting the program, address scheduling to reduce the amount of time required to earn credentials, and offer students emergency financial assistance to prevent drop-outs due to unforeseen expenses and life events.

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