Supporting Postsecondary Enrollment for Adult Learners of Color

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To improve overall educational attainment and support equitable outcomes, it is critical to support working-age adults’ enrollment in postsecondary education—focusing especially on adult learners of color. Nearly 36 million adults in the United States have some college experience but no degree, and adults of color are disproportionately likely to fall into this category or to have only completed high school.

Despite stated interest among institutions and policymakers in helping adults obtain postsecondary credentials, the field has an incomplete understanding of what institutional practices and program models best encourage and support adult learners as they consider enrolling in postsecondary education.

Project Overview

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This project, supported by Lumina Foundation, aims to help leaders at postsecondary institutions and state system offices design programs in ways that support the needs, strengths, and interests of Black, Hispanic, and Native American adult learners.

This includes understanding better understanding (a) what educational and training program models support adult learners of color (including increasing their participation in postsecondary education and supporting their educational success), and (b) how to take an asset-based approach to presenting information about program models in ways that are relevant to the strengths, motivations, and experiences of adult learners of color (particularly Black, Hispanic, and Native American adult learners).

Research Activities

AIR will use a set of research studies exploring how time, opportunity, and information influence decision-making among these learners that it will develop through a research collaborative.

Three primary activities will support this work:

  • Narrative Interviews (Fall-Winter 2021): We will conduct interviews with approximately 20 adults to develop a deep understanding of their experiences and perspectives on college decision-making. We are especially interested in how their life experiences influence their decisions about whether to enroll in college, what program models might best support them, and where they seek information about college.
  • Survey of Adult Learners (Fall 2022): We also will survey adult learners to understand their experiences in college, their strengths and goals and the challenges and successes they face while they pursue a degree. The survey will be designed using a strengths-based framework to understand the strengths and achievements that adult learners may draw upon when making decisions about enrolling in college.
  • Research Collaborative (Ongoing): AIR is interested in expanding the set of researchers with expertise in this area. AIR is proud to support two research partners as they pursue independent projects and will present synthesis findings across these studies in 2023.