The Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary 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 labor force participation rates in the nation. According to CPE President Aaron Thompson, one of the main contributing factors is the lack of skills among people of working age.
“Kentucky ranks 35th in the nation for the educational attainment of its workforce, and providing education and credentials to working-age adults is critical to building a strong economy,” Thompson said. . “We have adults in Kentucky who lack the education and training they need to participate in the knowledge economy and are left with few job options that allow their families to thrive. .”
The new plan serves the state’s goal of increasing the percentage of Kentuckians with a high-quality postsecondary degree or certificate to 60 percent by 2030 to increase economic opportunity and to strengthen Kentucky’s workforce. Over the past decade, Kentucky has increased educational attainment by nearly 19 percentage points. However, total adult undergraduate enrollment is on the decline, dropping 50% since the 2012-13 academic year.
“To achieve our goal of academic success, we need to focus on both adult learners and traditional-aged students,” Thompson said. “Giving Kentuckians the resources and information they need to further their education, regardless of life stage, is critical to creating greater economic opportunity and social mobility in our Commonwealth.”
Adult learners often face barriers to obtaining their degree or credentials, such as full-time employment, parenthood, poor health, 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 reduce these barriers.
The plan’s strategies revolve around three main axes: accessibility, institutional change and partnerships. They are further categorized as occurring now (ongoing or within six months), next (to be undertaken within the next 12-18 months), and later (action steps requiring further collaboration and refinement, occurring in the next two to three years).
Priority 1: Increase accessibility of higher education for adults
The first priority focuses on sharing accurate information about college affordability, program options, and services available to meet unique student needs, and offers solutions to address financial concerns.
Key action steps for accessibility include:
• Launched a statewide one-stop shop student information portal with specific information about adult learners, including available financial aid and other resources, post-secondary education return on investment information, tools to direct potential learners to programs career-relevant academics and other counseling resources.
• Expand financial assistance reduce barriers to entry for returning learners, including debt forgiveness agreements, fee and other waiver applications, and emergency assistance programs.
• Simplify admissions and admissions processes to improve student access and enrollment rates.
• Partnership with a data analysis organization to more accurately identify future adult learners in Kentucky for the purpose of targeted information sharing about post-secondary programs and their value in improving social mobility.
Priority 2: Increase institutional innovation to better serve adult learners
Higher education programs are primarily designed around the needs, schedules, and resources of traditional-aged students entering straight from high school. Adult learners need more flexibility and options from higher education institutions.
Key action steps for institutional change include:
• Identify gaps in and expand support for institutional programs that help students meet basic needs like food, housing, and transportation.
• Development of a statewide policy prior learning credit, beginning with the transfer of military credit and prior learning credit for military experience.
• Explore inclusion of an adult-focused metric in Kentucky’s postsecondary education performance-based funding model with institutional and legislative leaders.
• Expansion flexibility academic program options for students.
Priority 3: Strengthen partnerships to facilitate transitions
Higher education programs must involve employers, businesses and industries to facilitate transitions into and out of the labor market for adult learners attending university.
Key action steps for partnerships include:
• Involve community leaders in conversations about how to support and expand post-secondary education opportunities for working-age adults in their areas, starting with the CPE Community Conversations, which are currently being held across the state.
• Through the CPE Health Workforce Collaborativeestablishing partnerships with regional healthcare providers to enable current employees to continue their education and training and advance in their careers.
• Work with the corrections department to increase access to post-secondary education for justice-affected Kentuckians when Pell Grants become more widely available in the fall of 2023.
• Work with the Legislature and the Governor’s Office establish a state-level tax benefit for employers to encourage post-secondary training for employees. This would be in addition to federal tax benefits available for the same purposes.
The plan targets adults aged 25-39, when they are typically most interested in career advancement or retraining; who are not currently enrolled in post-secondary studies; who have completed high school or some college education but have not obtained a diploma; and/or who live below 200% of the national poverty line, earning less than a living wage.
The plan was the result of the work of a CPE-led state team that mapped existing resources and assets across the Commonwealth and set out a statewide policy agenda to increase engagement of adults in post-secondary education and training. Working with the Multistate Educational Attainment Academy, coordinated by the Education Strategy Group, the Kentucky team consisted of CPE staff and adult learning experts from public and private post-secondary institutions in Kentucky.
Industrial and commercial interests were represented by the Kentucky Workforce Innovation Board and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Other state and national agencies participating in this work include the Kentucky Office of Adult Education, the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, KYSTATS, and the Graduate! Network, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that encourages adults to return to college to earn a degree.
Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education