State plan aims to help adults go to college, fill skills gap
October 03, 2022
The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education released a statewide action plan to remove barriers preventing adults from returning to college or enrolling for the first time.
At 56.3%, Kentucky has one of the lowest workforce participation rates in the nation. A big factor contributing to this is the skills gap among working-age people, according to CPE President Aaron Thompson.
“Kentucky ranks 35th in the nation in the educational attainment level of its workforce and getting degrees and credentials into the hands of working-age adults is key to building a strong economy,” said Thompson. “We have adults in Kentucky who do not have the education and training they need to participate in the knowledge economy and are left with few options for employment that allow their families to thrive.”
The new plan is in service of the state’s goal to raise the percentage of Kentuckians with a high-quality postsecondary degree or certificate to 60% by the year 2030 to increase economic opportunity and strengthen Kentucky’s workforce. In the past decade Kentucky has increased educational attainment by nearly 19 percentage points. However, total undergraduate adult enrollment is on the decline, decreasing 50% since the 2012-13 academic year.
“To reach our educational attainment goal, we have to focus on both adult learners and traditional-age students,” said Thompson. “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.”
Adult learners often face barriers to earning their degree or credentials such as full-time employment, parenthood, poor health and housing and food insecurity. The strategies presented in Moving Up: An Action Plan to Improve Economic Opportunity for Kentucky Adults Through Lifelong Learning will help lower these barriers.
The plan’s strategies fall under three main headings: accessibility, institutional change and partnerships. They are further categorized as occurring now (in progress or within six months), next (to be undertaken over the next 12-18 months) and later (action steps needing further collaboration and refinement, occurring in the next two to three years).
Priority One: Increasing accessibility of higher education for adults
Priority one focuses on sharing accurate information about college affordability, program options and services available to meet students’ unique needs and offers solutions to address financial concerns.
Key action steps for accessibility include:
- Launching a statewide, one-stop student information portal with specific adult-learner information, including available financial aid and other resources, information about postsecondary return-on-investment, tools to direct prospective learners to career-relevant academic programs and other advising resources.
- Expanding financial assistance to reduce barriers to entry for returning learners, including debt forgiveness agreements, application and other fee waivers and emergency aid programs.
- Simplifying admissions and intake processes to improve student access and matriculation rates.
- Partnering with a data analytics organization to more precisely identify prospective adult learners in Kentucky for the purposes of targeted information sharing about postsecondary programs and their value in improving social mobility.
Priority Two: Increasing institutional innovation to better serve adult learners
Higher education programs are mostly designed around the needs, schedules and resources of traditional-age students entering directly from high school. Adult learners need more flexibility and options from higher education institutions.
Key action steps for institutional change include:
- • Identifying gaps in and expand support for institutional programs that help students meet basic needs like food, housing and transportation.
- Developing a statewide policy on credit for prior learning, beginning with the transfer of military credit and credit for prior learning for military experience.
- Exploring the inclusion of an adult-focused metric in Kentucky’s postsecondary education performance-based funding model with institutional and legislative leaders.
- Expanding flexible academic program options for students.
Priority Three: Reinforcing partnerships to make transitions easier
Higher education programs need to engage employers, business and industry to ease the transitions into and out of the workforce for adult learners attending college.
Key action steps for partnerships include:
- Engaging community leaders in conversations about how to support and expand postsecondary opportunities for working-age adults in their regions, beginning with CPE’s Community Conversations, which are currently being hosted across the state.
- Through CPE’s Healthcare Workforce Collaborative, establishing partnerships with regional healthcare providers to enable current employees to further their education and training and advance in their careers.
- Working with the department of corrections to increase access to postsecondary education for justice-impacted Kentuckians when Pell grants become more widely available in the fall of 2023.
- Working with the Legislature and governor’s office to establish a state-level tax benefit for employers to incentivize postsecondary training for employees. This would supplement federal tax benefits available for the same purpose.
The plan targets adults between the ages of 25-39, when they typically are most interested in career advancement or retraining; who are not currently enrolled in postsecondary education; who have completed high school or some college but have not earned a credential; and/or who are living below 200% of the national poverty level, making less than a living wage.
The plan was the result of the work of a CPE-led a state team that mapped existing resources and assets in the commonwealth and outlined a statewide policy agenda to increase adult engagement in postsecondary education and training. In conjunction with the multistate Educational Attainment Academy, coordinated by the Education Strategy Group, the Kentucky team consisted of CPE staff and adult learner experts from Kentucky’s public and private postsecondary institutions.
Industry and business interests were represented by the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Other state and national agencies participating in this work included the Kentucky Office of Adult Education, the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, KYSTATS and the Graduate! Network, a non-profit organization headquartered in Philadelphia that encourages adults to return to college to finish a credential.
Last Updated: 10/3/2022