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Resource Roundup – New Reports

ACCN Blog A number of new reports with relevance for those working with returning adults have been released this spring. This week’s post provides an overview of two of these, a policy brief from the Education Commission of the States on state financial aid and a report on the results of a recent survey of adults’ perceptions of the costs and benefit s of postsecondary education from the American Enterprise Institute.

Redesigning State Financial Aid: Principles to guide state aid policymaking from the Education Commission of the States (ECS)

This policy brief from ECS distills lessons learned from the early stages of the group’s State Financial Aid Redesign project, which aims to support states in better aligning their financial aid policies and college completion agendas. The brief presents four general principles for state financial aid policy redesign, suggesting that programs be: (1) student centered, (2) goal driven and data informed, (3) timely and flexible, and (4) broadly inclusive of all students’ educational pathways. The principles were developed by a group of state financial aid experts at an ECS-facilitated meeting.

While each principle represents a thoughtful approach to reframing traditional financial aid programs, principles three and four will be of particular interest to those serving adult students and prospective adult students. Principle three calls for “timely and flexible” programs, suggesting that programs should be designed to have funding available for eligible students whenever they enroll – rather than on a first-come, first serve basis based on the traditional academic calendar. The brief notes this would be especially beneficial for adult learners, who tend to have more variability in their enrollment timelines than students coming straight from high school.

Principle four—programs should be broadly inclusive of all students’ educational pathways—has two elements that will resonate with those serving adult learners. The brief recommends that aid eligibility not be limited to academic programs measured by credit hours and instead recognize more diverse measurements of academic progress such as competency-based programs and prior learning assessment. In addition, the authors call for aid which supports part-time as well as full-time students – pointing out that, despite research on the benefits of full-time enrollment for completion, many students have work and family obligations which simply do not allow them to enroll full time.

 The next step of the State Financial Aid Redesign project will be the launch of a 50-state financial aid policy database – which is slated for release in the next few weeks.


High Costs, Uncertain Benefits: What Do Americans Without a College Degree Think About Postsecondary Education? From Andrew P. Kelly at the American Enterprise Institute

This report presents findings from a March 2015 survey of adults aged 25-44 who have graduated from high school, but do not have a college degree – with 40.3 percent of the sample falling into the “some college, no degree” category. The survey sought to determine this group’s perceptions of the costs and benefits of postsecondary education, and may serve as a valuable new resource for those focused on outreach to this demographic.

Key findings from the survey suggest that most respondents see postsecondary education as necessary for a good job – but too expensive. These results echo those from this spring’s Gallup-Lumina Foundation Poll on Higher Education. The survey results also indicated that a majority of adultsincluding among the “some college” group—overestimated the cost of attending a public community college in their area. Meanwhile, 57.5 percent of respondents believed today’s colleges are not set up for people with family and work responsibilities.

Other notable findings included that the some college, no degree group was less likely to be satisfied with their current level of education than those with only a high school diploma, and the some college, no degree group was more likely to aspire to a bachelor’s degree or higher. Interestingly, many of these surveyed individuals expressed uncertainty about the economic returns to postsecondary education, particularly with regard to sub-baccalaureate credentials such as associate degrees, certificates, and apprenticeships.

A panel discussion on the research conducted by AEI with higher education experts from other organizations provides additional context to the results presented in the report. For example, each panelist noted that successfully disseminating information on the value of sub-baccalaureate credentials to working-age adults was a key policy consideration that emerged from the research. Kelly is currently conducting a follow-up survey with a subset of the initial respondents to explore how additional information affects their perceptions. 

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