In order to increase the number of people with postsecondary credentials and ensure that the United States remains internationally competitive, it is necessary to allocate more energy and resources to ensuring that adult students complete their degrees or certificates. Based on our findings, this report concludes with implications and recommendations for helping more adult prospective students attain postsecondary success.

  1. Broaden the conversation about college costs to include not only tuition, but housing, transportation and food. Emergency financial aid, transportation stipends and food assistance can all be scaled up to alleviate some of the most pressing affordability burdens of attending college, helping more students complete their degrees.
  2. Help adult prospective students gain a more realistic understanding of how to pay for college, and provide comprehensive counseling on loans and the financial aid process. Since most adult prospective students are worried about taking on debt, it is understandable that more say they will rely on grants and scholarships than on loans. Relevant, easily accessible financial aid counseling should be available when choosing a college, during enrollment and even after college completion.
  3. Provide guidance about when to transfer, and help adults understand potential challenges. Adult prospective students need to be engaged on when and how to transfer to maximize their likelihood of graduating and minimize their costs and time spent in school. They need to understand that some schools have higher transfer rates than others—before they start investing time and money in an institution.
  4. Create structures to help undecided adult prospective students pick a program of study prior to enrollment or soon thereafter. Enrolling undeclared means students may use up valuable time and money deciding on a field of study. Approaches such as intensive advising or guided pathway programs can help students narrow down their options so that they enter a program of study earlier and start earning credits toward their major. These approaches may be especially helpful for low-income students, who are even more likely to enter college unsure of what to study.
  5. Provide additional support for adult prospective students to stay on track and ensure they graduate. Consider ways different departments such as academic affairs and career services can work together and provide easily accessible and relevant tutoring or other services that can address students’ academic needs.
  6. Colleges and universities should prioritize faculty. Most adult prospective students say that when choosing a school, it is absolutely essential that instructors care about students and know how to teach, it is essential for colleges and universities to attract and retain high-quality faculty and give them the time they need to connect with adult prospective students and serve as advisers.
  7. Find innovative ways to provide workplace-relevant instruction in classrooms. Many adult prospective students are planning to pursue a degree or certificate to broaden their career options, and most think it is absolutely essential to gain skills that are relevant to the workplace. Colleges and faculty need to find other ways to integrate workplace-relevant skills and foster experiential learning into their curricula and instruction.
  8. The metrics that matter to experts—such as graduation rates—need to be made relevant to adult prospective students. Most adults do not think information such as graduation rates or the number of graduates who get a job in the field they studied is absolutely essential. While transparency is important for leaders and policymakers to hold institutions accountable, more needs to be done to help individual adult prospective students understand how those metrics matter to them.
  9. Ensure that colleges and universities are equipped to help adult prospective students make informed choices. Faculty, current students and staff should be provided with the time, training and information needed to enable them to engage adult prospective students and help them make informed choices. School websites should be easy to navigate, have information specific to adult learners and provide ways for adult prospective students to connect directly with faculty, students, alumni and advisers.
  10. Encourage businesses and community organizations to work together to support adult prospective students. Consider ways to create partnerships between businesses, community organizations and colleges themselves to create support systems for adult learners. Such support will help adult students gain workplace-relevant skills, transfer without encountering barriers and find support for critical needs such as food and transportation.