Magazine article The Catalyst

Alfi, What's It All about? Strategies for Colleges and Universities to Become Adult Learning Focused Institutions

Magazine article The Catalyst

Alfi, What's It All about? Strategies for Colleges and Universities to Become Adult Learning Focused Institutions

Article excerpt

Since the 1970s, the number of adults in postsecondary education has grown steadily, and today, learners aged 25 and older are the fastest growing population at our nation's colleges and universities. The reasons for this trend are many - for example a growing awareness that higher education credentials can lead to greater individual economic success, a shift in our economy from manufacturing to service industry jobs, and the constant changes in our economy that are requiring workers to change jobs and even industries over the course of their careers. The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (2008) indicate that nearly 40 percent of all college enrollments are for students age 25 or older - with actual numbers that are likely much higher today than projected due to the economic recession that is driving even more individuals back to school.

Colleges and universities are recognizing the significant size of the adult learner population among enrollments, and more and more they are realizing that the adult learner has needs and barriers that are different from those of the "traditional" student. If colleges and universities find ways to remove those barriers, they could help more of our population achieve higher levels of educational attainment. This is important for individual economic wellbeing and career growth, and for strengthening our nation's overall economic competitiveness. In addition, colleges and universities may also benefit by realizing a significant new source of enrollments and revenue.

Adult Learner Focused Institutions - Principles of Effectiveness for Serving Adult Learners

Adult learners face a number of barriers, the standard classification of which are personal, attitudinal, and structural barriers (Cross 1981). Personal or situational barriers include those that are due to the lack of time (due to work schedules, family obligations, dependent care, health issues, etc.) and lack of money. Attitudinal or dispositional barriers refer to how people view their ability to succeed at education and training, with many people burdened by fear of failure, particularly if they had not been successful in school earlier in their lives. Structural or institutional barriers are those that the schools themselves may create, for example, by offering classes only during the daytime or only in 16-week semesters.

For many years, leading institutions have worked hard to remove barriers to adults, in many cases implementing some or all of what CAEL has come to call the Principles of Effectiveness for Serving Adult Learners. We call the colleges and universities that implement these principles Adult Learner Focused Institutions (ALFI). Developed in 1999 from benchmarking research with APQC and then later refined, the principles address learning barriers through a variety of policies and practices.

Principles of Effectiveness for Serving Adult Learners


The institution conducts its outreach to adult learners by overcoming barriers of time, place, and tradition in order to create lifelong accessio educational opportunities.

Life & Career Planning

The institution addresses adult learners' life and career goals before or at the onset of enrollment in order to assess and align its capacities to help learners reach their goals.


The institution promotes choice using an array of payment options for adult learners in order to expand equity and financial flexibility.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

The institution defines and assesses the knowledge, skills and competencies acquired by adult learners both from the curriculum and from life/work experience in order to assign credit and confer degrees with rigor.

Teaching-Learning Process

The institution's faculty uses multiple methods of instruction (including experiential and problem-based methods) for adult learners in order to connect curricular concepts to useful knowledge and skills. …

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