Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

State plan aims to help adults go to college, fill skills gap

October 03, 2022

Two traditional aged students and an adult student.
Photo credit: Shutterstock.

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:

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:

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:

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