Skip to Content

What's Next in Higher Education for Adult Learners?

November 28, 2017

Jennifer Zeisler

Panelists Jennifer Zeisler, ECMC Foundation (middle) and Carlo Salerno (Strada Education Network) with moderator Paul Fain (Inside Higher Ed)

Earlier this month at the 2017 Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) International Conference, Jennifer Zeisler, ECMC Foundation career readiness program director joined Carlo Salerno, VP of Analytics at Strada Education Network, to provide insight into how postsecondary education is evolving to meet the needs of adult learners. The two panelists were accompanied by Inside Higher Ed editor, Paul Fain, who moderated the session.

Adult learners are defined as students who are ages 25 and older, many of whom are returning to school with limited or no education beyond high school. Often, these students have a unique set of needs due to outside obligations, such as supporting dependents and working full-time jobs.

In the session titled "Higher Education Funders: A look at Things to Come," Zeisler and Salerno tackled hot-button topics related to postsecondary education for this unique population, including the skills gap, stackable credentials, short-term and industry-recognized credentials, Pell funding and support services like childcare.

They also addressed the question: in light of the new Administration's education policies, where does higher education go from here? While much is unknown regarding government funding, said Zeisler, philanthropy's role is to continue to support innovative programs and strategies that help adult learners. "It is our responsibility as funders to take risks and look for new approaches that can disrupt the education system and provide more effective and efficient educational opportunities for adult learners," she said. "We have to be mindful that we are providing pathways for all students to access a career, not just a first job."

CAEL brings together professionals working at the forefront of the lifelong learning movement; and creates and manages effective learning and assessment strategies for adults, with a special focus on lower-skilled workers and those who do not have easy access to postsecondary education.

A grantee partner of ECMC Foundation, in 2016, CAEL received funding from the Foundation in support of its efforts to connect workforce development boards and community colleges, and their use of the Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) as a method for increasing postsecondary credential attainment for workforce system participants.

The organization's annual conference brings together participants including college faculty and administrators, workforce developers and representatives from labor and government, to learn from each other and to network. This year's conference took place in San Diego, CA from November 15-17.


At the 2017 CAEL Conference, ECMC Foundation team members met with CAEL team members and community college and workforce board representatives who are implementing the project supported by the Foundation.

Back to News