Why Equity Matters for Adult College Completion

This brief describes how Adult Promise program leaders and their partners are incorporating a racial equity focus into initiatives targeting adult learners through goal setting, outreach and recruitment, financial supports, and completion strategies.

Ann E. Person
Julie Bruch
Lisbeth Goble
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Fewer than half of the nearly 170 million U.S. residents between the ages of 25 and 64 have obtained a postsecondary degree or certificate. The statistics for adult students of color who have attained higher education are even lower. About 46 percent of White adults hold a college degree, compared to only 22 percent of Native American, 24 percent of Latino, and 30 percent of Black adults. To increase the number of American adults who enroll in and complete higher education programs, Lumina Foundation launched the Adult Promise Pilot Program in 2017 to help states develop and implement innovative programs to engage adult learners. Adult Promise state grantees have also committed to adhering to the foundation’s commitment to racial equity by implementing postsecondary completion initiatives that focus on creating opportunities that support Black, Latino, and Native American adults. As the evaluation partner for Lumina Foundation, Mathematica interviewed and surveyed Adult Promise grantees to share with the foundation insights about how program leaders and their partners incorporate a racial equity focus into their initiatives.

In this issue brief, Mathematica researchers highlight how Adult Promise grantees support adult learners of color complete college through state-level goal setting, outreach and recruitment, financial supports, and completion strategies. They also offer some overarching reflections for postsecondary education stakeholders seeking to engage in similar efforts.

Benefits and Uses

The most helpful feature of this resource are the very specific examples given for each of the equity principles the Adult Promise program suggests. The specific examples of how state teams have supported minority and underserved communities are essential to show other states and programs what is possible and to help generate new and more creative ideas for how to increase and address equity. 

There are also clear pointers toward certain core principles that are widely transferable. The resource encourages readers to:

  • engage the stakeholders, especially those traditionally marginalized within the institution;
  • disaggregate your own data to see what your specific realities and conditions are. Don't be afraid to go to a fine grain size to engage in this work;
  • figure out the barriers to entry, retention AND completion and address them in practical ways; and
  • attend to equitable distribution of resources and the practical, specific life needs of students beyond the traditional types of assistance like financial aid. 

The resource could have benefitted from following its own recommendation to include specific, disaggregated data with respect to the findings from the survey. That might have helped the section on building equity into completion strategies be more specific and actionable. As is, that section does not have a lot of innovative ideas represented. However, the suggestions that are there are important ones and emphasize the value of seeking out and listening carefully to marginalized stakeholders, going slowly, and acting in partnership.

Adult educators, administrators, marketing and recruitment directors, and other policymakers or stakeholders could all benefit from this resource. This would also serve as a great resource as part of any diversity training for adult educators.

What the experts say

Although this resource is mostly focused on how to increase equity to recruit and better serve adult learners in a post-secondary context, there are many helpful, enlightening, and useful elements that can be easily integrated into policies, administration, recruitment, and culture of adult education programs. 

The authors present examples of how leaders in various states participating in the Adult Promise program created initiatives "targeting adult learners through goal setting, outreach and recruitment, financial supports, and completion strategies." While these may sound like phrases we have all heard before, this article provides specific examples from the state teams that illustrate the different and creative way in which barriers are being recognized, analyzed, and broken down. These specific examples are the gems of the resource and may be the spark someone else needs to build on or come up with a new idea to further this work in ways more relevant to their own community. 

Overall, this resource would be great for any conversation adult educators are having concerning diversity and equity and would be useful to spark good conversation and new ideas. While not all the examples are feasible for adult education (like many of the funding ideas) this resource can definitely add to and clarify the conversation about equity and ultimately help us serve all students well.

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