Kentucky lays out plan for boosting adult college enrollment

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Dive Brief: 

  • The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education on Monday released a statewide plan that aims to enroll more students between the ages of 25 and 39 into college. 
  • The new plan means to help boost the share of Kentucky residents who have a college credential to 60% by 2030, which is an existing state goal. However, enrollment of adult undergraduates has plummeted in the state, falling 50% since the 2012-13 academic year, according to the announcement
  • The state intends to start boosting adult enrollment by sharing information about financial aid and advising services with prospective students. A next step involves better serving adult learners, including by supporting college programs that help students meet their basic needs and developing a statewide policy for awarding credit for prior education. 

Dive Insight: 

The vast majority of states have degree attainment goals, though their details differ. Kentucky has made large strides to boost college attainment over the past few years, raising the share of adults with a credential from 43.6% in 2015 to 49.4% in 2019. However, the state lags nationwide trends, as 51.9% of adults in the U.S. held a college credential that last year, according to a recent report from the council. 

Kentucky pinpointed adult enrollment as an area needing improvement. Earlier this year, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education noted that falling adult enrollment would require the state to recruit them aggressively.

“To reach our educational attainment goal, we have to focus on both adult learners and traditional-age students,” Aaron Thompson, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education, said in a statement. “Giving Kentuckians the resources and information they need to further their education, regardless of what stage of life they are in, is essential to creating greater economic opportunity and social mobility in our commonwealth.”

The council’s new plan creates a blueprint to reach the adult population. The first step involves making information more easily accessible about the cost of higher education and the support services available to adults. While the state has financial aid programs well-suited for adults, they aren’t always well understood by this population, the plan says. 

“Marketing and information-sharing will help raise awareness of available programs that support adults’ unique needs,” the plan says. 

Kentucky wants to launch a “one-stop student information portal” with information specific to adults, including about financial aid and career-oriented academic programs. 

The council also plans to work with two to three community colleges or universities to track students as they enroll and graduate. The goal is to identify the most pressing barriers students face so institutions can help remove them

Adult students often have a wealth of experience outside the classroom that could translate into college credit, the plan notes. It suggests that the state develop a policy for awarding credit for prior learning, starting by focusing on those with military experience. 

The council highlighted a policy at the University of Louisville, where adults can receive up to 48 hours of college credit by creating a portfolio documenting their experiences from areas like work and the military.

The plan also says that colleges should forge stronger relationships with employers. 

It suggests creating a map of existing partnerships that help ease adult students’ transitions into the workforce, including with employers, trade associations and philanthropic groups. And the council plans to work with lawmakers to create a state-level tax benefit for employers to encourage workers to enroll in postsecondary training.

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