Adult Promise Programs are relatively new in higher education. Until recently most promise programs have focused on providing financial aid for traditional age college students. New Adult Promise Programs are focusing on adult higher education students for a very important reason. Adult students are a group that can help increase completion rates in the United States. Adults who have some college but haven’t attained a degree are a promising population for completing a degree or certification. Lumina Foundation developed its Adult Promise initiative as part of Lumina’s goal to increase the number of adults with a degree or certification to 60 percent by 2025.
This initiative, which started with a group of four states last year, has given grants to a group of six additional states that showed they were making a commitment to adult higher education students. For example, these states offer financial aid to adult students and are committed to fair outcomes for minority students. They also have state leaders, employers and higher education institutions that have demonstrated interest in helping adults complete their education.
The support offered by the Lumina Program and other Adult Promise Programs will benefit many. Almost 40 percent of undergraduate students are over age 25. These students must be successful if states are going to meet attainment goals, such as those set by Lumina, and also meet their workforce needs. The number of high school graduates, alone, pursuing higher education won’t meet states goals and needs; the adult population will make up the educated population that states and employers need.
The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) report “Implications and Importance of Adult Promise Programs” explains the importance of Adult Promise Programs. The report states that most states have ambitions goals to increase postsecondary attainment and it is important that they do so. But it takes involvement from many stakeholders. “None will accomplish its goal without closing equity gaps and increasing the number of adults over age 25 with a postsecondary credential. Given declining projections of high school graduates in most states, states must focus on adult learners to reach the level of attainment necessary for 21st century economic and workforce demands.”
The SHEEO report defines components that Adult Promise programs should cover. First, they should make an effort to reach out and recruit adult learners, and help them enroll and apply for financial aid. Second, they should offer support services like prior learning assessments and scheduling that set student up for success. And third, they should offer emergency grants that help keep students enrolled during an emergency.
A comprehensive tuition assistance program is a complement to an Adult Promise program in many ways. TAP isn’t intended to cover all the “shoulds” of a program – they are the responsibilities of states and higher education organizations. But a tuition assistance program provides support in many of the same ways.
First, tuition assistance provides workers with opportunities to enroll for classes and have financial support. Businesses can recruit employees and build a workforce from within. Second, while higher education institutions can offer prior learning assessments, businesses can include the value of those programs in their tuition programs. Allowing employees to earn credit for their prior and earned knowledge helps move them toward degree completion faster. Including counseling as a key component of TAP also help students find the most direct path to success. Third, the financial support of tuition assistance can provide stability for students working toward completion. Students have support that helps them work toward career goals as they achieve completion of their higher education goals. TAP gives students financial help that has an immediate impact on their lives and provides the ability for them to move forward with growth in their career.
Adult Promise Programs are more than just a financial commitment to provide tuition and fees for adult students, the SHEEO report states. With the support of schools and states they are “an excellent vehicle for delivering additional support and services to adult learners, who are currently underserved in higher education.”
Tuition assistance offers this and more. It offers a means to an education that many adults may never have been able to access before. It supports many students who have been and still are underserved financially and who need academic support. A comprehensive tuition plan can include counseling and direction that aid in education attainment and career growth. Tuition assistance plans can show adults how they can work to fill needs in the labor market and secure their own futures.
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