Adult Higher Education: Access and Innovation

By Johnson, Carrie | Adult Learning, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview
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Adult Higher Education: Access and Innovation


Johnson, Carrie, Adult Learning


The accelerated rate of change in our present-day society makes learning a necessity for adults (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). The changing needs of the American population are redefining the notion of the college student and, thus, redefining the nature of our colleges and universities. When FutureWorks, a consulting and policy development firm based in Massachusetts, began investigations in 2001 to determine barriers to postsecondary education access, they discovered that approximately 60-65 million adult workers in the United States were without a college degree. Not only was this a serious concern for individual workers, but also an economic problem for America; we must prepare workers to fill new jobs. According to Bosworth and Choitz (2004),

   Even assuming that high school
   graduates continue on to college
   at the same or higher rates, the
   United States likely will see a
   net gain of perhaps 3 million
   workers with college credentials
   by 2020. This gain does
   not come close to covering the
   estimated 15 million new jobs
   created by 2020 that will require
   college education. Quite simply,
   employers, workers, and postsecondary
   education systems
   must invest in adults currently
   in the work force if we are to
   maintain our competitive edge in
   a skilled economy (p. 4).

Layoffs and outsourcing have had a great impact on the blue collar sector. Many of these workers are discovering that they do not hold the skills to secure new employment. This is driving these individuals into higher education to increase or develop new skills and respond to a job market that requires a more technologically-skilled labor force (Compton, Cox, & Lanaan, 2006).

With less than 20% of today's college students in the 18-22-year-old age group, colleges and universities are increasingly confronted with the need to build educational programs for a highly diverse student population, including diversity of age, gender, race, socioeconomic background, to name a few. Today's college students are typically working adults with families who seek the education and skills necessary to build their careers (Duderstadt, 2006). The changing demographics within higher education have forced colleges and universities to respond with programs that serve the needs of adult learners. That is the focus of this issue of Adult Learning.

The issue begins with an article written by Cynthia Zafft of World Education. This article addresses the need for support for participants transitioning from literacy programs into post-secondary education. Cynthia addresses the obstacles these learners face and reports on the use and effectiveness of five adult basic education to college transition models that she and her colleagues at National College Transition Network at World Education studied.

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