Learn More to Earn More
In the past, what a person learned in school and picked up on the job was sufficient to carry them through their lives. For one thing, people stayed with the same employer for much longer. But job tenure, particularly among men, is about half the length it used to be. Today, moving up often means moving on to a new job. Coupled with added pressure from globalization and technology, there is a greater need than ever for adults to continually update their skills and add new credentials. But adult education is often inconvenient, inflexible and expensive
Going back to school for many adults is cumbersome and inconvenient.
Many jobs in the next decade will require a college degree.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 57% of jobs in America in 2016 will require education beyond high school.1 However, as it stands now, huge segments of the U.S. labor force won’t be able to meet that requirement. In 2005, 48 million prime-aged American workers—about 40% of the workforce—had a high school diploma or less. Another 20 million workers have completed some post-secondary education but have not earned a two- or four-year degree.2
Workers without college degrees have more job insecurity.
The increased exposure of lower-educated workers to job insecurity is apparent in the recent economic downturn. Workers with less formal education have borne the brunt of the ongoing recession. As of January, those with only a high school diploma account for the largest group of the unemployed—more than 3.8 million workers.3 For workers without college degrees, the unemployment rate is 10.1%, compared to an unemployment rate of only 4.9% for individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher.4
More workers are going back to school to earn a degree or refresh their skills.
As has happened in previous recessions, unemployed workers are most likely to pursue new education or training opportunities when economic times are tough. In fact, community colleges across the country are reporting that enrollment is up significantly as a result of the poor economy, with the American Association of Community Colleges reporting that 2009 calendar year enrollment is already 10% higher than 2008.5 Past recessions have seen similar increases in enrollment, particularly at two-year post-secondary institutions, as the following chart indicates.
But there are many barriers to going back to school.
Going back to school is often difficult and inconvenient. According to multiple reports and surveys, including reports by the U.S. Department of Labor and the non-profit Lumina Foundation, prospective students face significant barriers to enrolling in education or training programs.
These barriers include inflexible class schedules that don’t meet the needs of non-traditional students who juggle work and family obligations, difficult physical access to campuses and learning centers, limited access to child care, and personal reservations adults may have about returning to school.6 In addition, cost is a significant factor, especially for workers who have lost their jobs. For example, federal loans are available only to students attending at least half-time, and even though Pell grants are available to less than half-time students, they do not allow for living expenses or other costs to be counted as part of the cost of education.7 Partly as a result, 78% of adult community college students do not complete a two-year degree or program within three years of enrollment.8
The solutions we lay out below offer ideas and policy proposals to governors to help adult learners clear the hurdles in their way to going back to school and earning a degree. We propose solutions to make going back to school more affordable and more convenient for mid-career students.
Reduce the costs for mid-career learners
Mid-career students are often most sensitive to cost because they face the pressures of work, looking for work, and providing for a family. We have identified seven ideas that governors can use to reduce the financial burden on adult learners who return to school.
1. Create a mid-career student loan program for part-time students.
Current federal policy prevents students enrolled less-than-half-time from accessing Stafford loans to pay for their education, and on a federal level, legislation was introduced in 2007 to allow less-than-half-time students to take out federal loans.9 On a state level, states could use general revenue to create a loan fund specifically for mid-career individuals in need of further training or education. According to the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 14% of college students are enrolled less than halftime however, in 2003-2004, of all Pell Grants received, only 2.1% went to less than half-time students.
2. Implement a Lifelong Learning Account (LiLA) pilot program.
Lifelong Learning Accounts are portable, employer-matched savings vehicles—like a 401(k) for continuing education and training. With LiLAs, employees are able to save money for future education expenses when looking to move up the ladder. In many instances, employers encourage their employees to save through matching contribution programs.10
- Several states have implemented LiLA pilot programs, including Missouri, Maine, Illinois, Indiana, California, Washington and Hawaii. After the success of these pilot programs in these states, all have had legislation introduced to create LiLAs. In addition to these seven states, legislation in Wisconsin has also been introduced. In Illinois, the pilot program was allocated additional funding in 2008. Businesses and non-profits in Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania are currently working to develop LiLA pilot programs.11
- Legislation has also been introduced at the federal level to create national LiLAs. In the 110th Congress, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) introduced the Lifelong Learning Accounts Act of 2007 (S. 26), and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) and Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN) introduced the Lifelong Learning Accounts Act of 2008 (H.R. 6036).13
3. Mid-career scholarships for adults wanting to go back to school.
Nearly all states have grants for young people to attend college, but only a few have scholarship programs aimed at mid-career adults. States could provide state-funded competitive scholarships targeting mid-career workers looking to upgrade their skills and education. Financial assistance for postsecondary education continues to be focused on traditional students entering after high school, despite the increasing demand for adults to go back to school. Working adult students could apply for these mid-career scholarships, which would provide full or partial tuition payment at state universities and community colleges.
- The Indiana Part-Time Grant program was established to assist part-time degree-seeking students who have demonstrated a commitment to pursuing postsecondary education at an Indiana public or private college. Students must be enrolled in at least 3 but fewer than 12 credit hours per term, and eligibility is determined at the institutional level. Depending on financial need, students can receive up to $4,000 per academic year.14
- In Georgia, students who are residents of the state and graduated with a high school diploma after 1993 are eligible for the state’s HOPE scholarships which provide students with tuition assistance to attend Georgia schools. The state allows non-traditional students who graduated high school prior to 1993 to qualify for HOPE grants. Non-traditional students are eligible for HOPE grants if they are pursuing a degree at a technical college, have maintained a 3.0 cumulative GPA in post-secondary courses they have taken, but not have achieved a bachelor’s degree before. The HOPE grant amount is equal to tuition, mandatory fees, and a book allowance of up to $100 per quarter.15
4. Tuition grants for the unemployed.
States could provide tuition allowances to workers receiving unemployment benefits. For example, workers who have been laid off could be given a tuition allowance or waiver for one or two semesters of part-time study or training. This assistance would encourage workers to begin the process of earning a degree or certification. One variation would be a claw-back provision requiring students to repay this benefit if they do not complete their program in an allotted timeframe.
- Under Governor Corzine, New Jersey now offers a tuition waiver for workers receiving unemployment benefits and who enroll at public post-secondary institutions. In order to be eligible, prospective students must notify the state of their intent to participate in the program within 60 days of being laid off.16
- The No Worker Left Behind program, provides up to two years of free tuition at any Michigan community college, university or other approved training program and pays for unemployed workers or employed workers with family incomes less than $40,000 a year to be retrained in industries like health care, where the state has vacancies. In the 18 months that the program has been in effect, 72% of the workers who went through the retraining either kept their job or obtained a new one.17
- Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania has all 14 of Pennsylvania’s community colleges provide free tuition to displaced workers. Currently, Bucks Community College has more than 400 displaced workers taking up to 30 credits a year, in subjects such as education, accounting and business administration. Students are saving about $3000, and only need to pay for fees and books themselves.18 Other states have similar programs, including Illinois, Minnesota, and Washington.19
5. Provide tuition discounts based on the number of years adults have been employed in the state.
States could target adults who are returning to college to either complete their degree or to get retrained, by providing a tuition discount to state universities or community colleges based on the years they have been employed in the state or the number of years they have paid taxes to the state. For example, a state could provide a $1,000 discount to any adult learner who has been a taxpayer in the state for at least twenty years. A state could also use the discount as an incentive to the adult to complete their degree by providing free or discounted community college tuition for the last two years—or final 48 credits to complete their degree.
6. Work with local businesses to encourage and incentivize adult learning.
Currently, up to $5,250 of educational assistance employer benefits are tax-deductible, but this deduction applies to the employees’ annual income, not income or taxes owed by the employer. A state could create an employer tax credit in the amount of 50 percent of certain educational investments (such as tuition reimbursement), up to a specified amount per employee per year. INOVA Health Centers and United Technologies Corporation are two examples of employers that are giving back to their employees through educational assistance. An employer tax credit could incentivize more employers to provide assistance as well.
- The INOVA Health Centers Scholarship Program in Virginia provides tuition assistance of up to $5,000/year to nursing students who, if accepted, agree to work full-time for at least 2 years at an INOVA facility after graduation. Eligible beneficiaries include current INOVA employees, college seniors, and students enrolled in accredited nursing programs. Those awarded scholarships must begin work for INOVA within 4 months after graduation and must remain employed for at least 2 years. Those who fail to fulfill this commitment are required to repay the scholarship in full.20
- United Technologies Corporation in Connecticut provides extraordinary educational assistance to its employees. The program is called the Employee Scholar Program, and it was created in 1996. All UTC employees who enroll in degree programs have 100% of their costs covered, including tuition, fees, registration and books, and there is no requirement that the degree be related to their job. Employee students are also allowed paid time off for studying, up to a maximum of 3 hours per week. If they earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, employees are awarded $10,000 in UTC stock. Those achieving associate’s degrees are awarded $5,000 in stock. Since 1996, UTC has invested over $600 million in this program, and over 17,000 of its employees have earned more than 20,000 degrees and nearly $160 million in company stock.21
7. Reward colleges that help mid-career students finish their degrees.
There are estimates that 21 million working adults have tried some postsecondary education but failed to complete.22 If colleges and universities had an incentive to integrate working adults into their systems and encourage them to complete courses they sign up for and gain the credits they need for completing their degrees, then perhaps more working adults will get the attention they need to make it through the system.
- At Penn State University in Pennsylvania, the Commission for Adult Learners has been in existence since 1998. The commission is dedicated to improving the learning experience of adult learners at Penn State.23 The commission set up the Incentive Grant Program to provide support to new or improved programs or services that are directed toward helping adult learners. The maximum grant possible is $2,000, and the college, campus or administrative unit involved must match $1 for every $2 in grant funding.24
Make Adult Learning More Convenient
Adult learners may be price sensitive, but they are even more time sensitive. Below are nine ideas to make continuing education more convenient for those who work and raise a family.
1. Develop specific degree programs for working adults.
Mid-career students have very specific needs that are sometimes vastly different than the needs of traditional students. States need to encourage colleges, who generally cater to traditional college students, to tailor their services to the needs of working adults. This includes limiting the amount of time that adult learners must physically spend in the classroom, offering flexible course schedules, and providing intensive academic support services.
- In Indiana, Ivy Tech recently instituted the College for Working Adults (CWA) at its 23 campuses across the state. The program allows working students to achieve an associate’s degree in just 24 months without having to attend class more than twice a week or enroll in more than two classes at a time. This is possible through the utilization of blended class formats (part in-class, part online), tightly-defined course sequences leading to specific degrees with no electives, consistent scheduling that allow students to plan in advance, and extensive support services and marketing across the state.25
2. Include child-care expenses in financial aid programs.
Child care is a huge cost for most parents, but most school budgets do not allocate funds for child care services. Having a four-year old in a day care center can cost a parent between $4,000 and $11,000 a year.26 This is an impediment to student-parents returning to school and finishing their education. States should include child care in the state school budgets for loans and offer child care grants to parents in need.
At Colorado University at Boulder, child-care expenses are not included in its standard budget for students, but parents can apply to increase their cost of attendance based on the amount that they spend on child care. By increasing their estimated cost of attendance, student-parents are able to apply for and be eligible for more loans and/or grants.27
- The Minnesota Office of Higher Education offers grants to low-income students to help pay for their child care costs. Recipients must have a child under age 12, be Minnesota residents, be enrolled at least half-time (six credits in a given semester), be in good academic standing, and not be in default on student loans. Students at all Minnesota post-secondary institutions are eligible. The maximum value of each grant is $2,600 per child, per academic year if the parent is enrolled in 15 credits; grants decline in value from there based on the number of credits the parent is taking.28
- Oregon offers a grant similar to that of Minnesota. Student-parents must be enrolled in a post-secondary institution, be in good academic and student-loan standing, and have a child under age 12. Due to limited funding, new applications are not being accepted for 2009-2010; current recipients, however, are eligible for renewal.29
- Wake Tech Community College in North Carolina provides a grant to student parents of up to $650 per month, per child (for a maximum of two children) to cover child care costs. Grants are awarded based on the parent’s income and single parents are given top priority. In order to be considered, recipients must be eligible for a Pell Grant and must maintain a grade point average of at least 2.0.30
3. Create mid-career “e-universities.”
Online learning enrollment has grown at a faster pace than more traditional higher education enrollment. From 2005 to 2006, online enrollment grew by 9.7% while traditional education enrollment only grew by 1.5%.31 State governments can provide the technical/software platform for online courses and incentivize individual colleges and universities to provide the instruction and curriculum for the online courses. Any proposal should be accompanied by a marketing strategy targeting working adults.
4. Make it easier for adult students to earn credit from previous schooling.
Adult learners who have had previous schooling often have to go through a tedious process to transfer credits when going back to school. Many times the courses that they took at one university do not count toward a degree at another, forcing students to take courses again. States should remove the bureaucratic barriers of the transfer process to ease the transition of going back to school.
- In New Jersey, Governor Corzine signed legislation to make sure that community college credits/courses would transfer to a four-year school. “The law is designed to remove bureaucratic hurdles by making transfer more seamless and affordable for these students.”32 A website, www.NJTransfer.org, was set up to help students transfer their credits with ease.
- In Connecticut, Governor Rell recently signed a bill into law that will kick-start a comprehensive analysis of transfer agreements across the state’s public higher education institutions.33 This analysis will assess any roadblocks that students face in the transfer process and attempt to find necessary solutions. Ensuring easy transfer and smooth transitions encourages continuing education and also saves the state time and resources.34
- The Washington State Transfer Program is one of the most rigorous in the country. Students who graduate with an associate’s degree will generally enter with 60 credit hours and junior standing at the receiving four-year institution. Students who transfer must still meet their major, minor, or professional program requirements.35
5. Improve student-parents’ access to child care services.
The availability of low-cost or on-site child care is likely to enable many students to go to school. Since more than one in three community college students have children, a program for community colleges to provide child care for students could relieve a major cost burden associated with going to school. States could create a competitive grant program for community colleges to apply for assistance in setting up child care services at their schools. This would allow working parents the flexibility to attend classes while knowing their children are taken care of.
- Monroe Community College in New York offers discounted, on-campus childcare services to low-income parents enrolled at the college. Instead of paying the standard on-campus day care fees of up to $210 per week, parents pay just $20 per week. Grants are given on a first-come, first-serve basis with funding provided by the state of New York’s SUNY subsidies.36
6. Reward colleges that link courses to local employer needs.
In 1994 a study was conducted that surveyed 1,200 two-year colleges in the hopes of gaining a more in-depth understanding of exemplary work-based learning programs. The study found some common factors linking the exemplary two-year programs; two of those factors were exclusive connections between the program and its environment and frequent and effective communication with local employers.38
If a college’s curriculum does not match the needs of the community, then students graduate with skills that are not applicable to the needs of local businesses. When schools are in touch with their local community and the needs of local employers, schools can structure their curriculum based on those needs. Through grants to two-year and four-year colleges, states can encourage colleges to meet with local employers in order to design their curriculum based off of the skills sets and knowledge employers want in new employees.
7. Make the college application process more realistic for mid-career students.
The college application process is geared towards students graduating from high school. Aptitude tests (SAT and ACT) are generally required, though they may not be a realistic measure for a 35-year old going back to school. The Educational Testing Service acknowledges that the SAT’s forecasting ability is lower for older, non-traditional students. Many older students may be out of practice taking timed tests, multiple question tests, and their score may not be an accurate reflection of their future success.39 Many colleges and universities have moved away from requiring older students, specifically those who have been out of high school for more than five years or who are over the age of 25, from having to take the SAT for admission,40 but this is not the case for all postsecondary institutions. States should encourage public colleges and universities to drop the SAT/ACT admission requirement for mid-career students.
8. Develop online learning websites to give students information about e-learning courses.
Online technology has given learners more access to their education at lower costs. States should encourage the use of online technology through which students can earn college credits, refresh skills, and learn new abilities without having to attend a class. This saves time and money.
- The Kentucky Virtual Campus is an online resource that serves as the technological and support hub for dozens of Kentucky educational and professional training institutions. The website gives residents access to information on admissions and enrollment in a wide variety of courses, programs, degrees and certifications. By selecting online courses on the KYVC site and adding them to the student’s “EduCart,” enrollment request on behalf of the student is automatically sent to the offering institution.41
- Similar to the KYVC, Electronic Campus is an “electronic marketplace” for online education from institutions in 16 southern states. It has a separate section dedicated to “Adult Learners,” and available curriculum is searchable by course, degree, or institution. Application and enrollment in courses work similarly to the KYVC. Users can set up a profile for themselves, add classes to their “EduCart,” and their application is sent to the institution offering the class or program.42
- In Minnesota, Governor Tim Pawlenty proposed a significant online learning initiative for K-12 and postsecondary education, with a goal of having 25% of all Minnesota State Colleges and University credits earned through online courses by 2015. In addition, he is striving to make Minnesota a leader in online learning by creating a single Internet portal for online course and program information; increasing the capacity in the state college and university system to deliver online non-credit education and training to adult learners and Minnesota businesses; and exploring the ability to establish online tuition reciprocity agreements with other states to give students more choice and access to online college courses and programs.43
9. Create baseline core curriculum requirements at state two- and four-year institutions to ease the transfer process.
Nationwide, roughly 20% of transfer students who begin their higher education at two-year institutions enroll in a baccalaureate program in a four-year institution. However, credit and course transfer policies at many universities makes this transition a difficult one for students. In order for states to improve their two-year to four-year transfer performance, states should set forth baseline requirements for courses and agreements between state institutions about which courses and credits are transferable. This information should be made easily accessible to students.44
- The Oregon Board of Education and State Board of Higher Education created common standards for general education courses taken at the state’s community colleges. The hope is that these common standards will make it easier for students to move from community colleges to the state’s public four-year university without fear of credits not transferring.45