Addressing College Costs for Adult Ed Transition Students

Panel shot of Mina Reddy, Vania Estanek, Brenda Dann-Messier at NCTN Conference 2013

Panel at NCTN Conference 2013 with Mina Reddy, Vania Estanek, Brenda Dann-Messier
Courtesy of Priyanka Sharma

What financial aid is available to adult education students transitioning to college and training? Several recent Ed.gov blogs on student loans and federal initiatives, including OVAE’s Adult College Completion Toolkit, are providing guidance.

This was also the question posed to a panel at the recent National College Transition Network conference in Providence, RI.
Adult education students often face steep challenges when transitioning to college: cost of tuition, books, and materials; child care and transportation; loss of income; lack of “college knowledge” of the system and expectations; and weak skills that require developmental education courses. The panelists discussed innovative ideas advocacy groups and adult education programs can do to prepare and support their students’ success in the postsecondary setting.

Mina Reddy, of the Cambridge Community Learning Center, spoke first. Reddy shared how and why her program had established a local scholarship fund to support transitioning students. Last year, they had 15 $1,000 scholarships to award. Reddy spoke of the power of even small scholarships to “validate” students’ efforts and achievements.

Vania Estanek is a graduate of the Cambridge program’s ESOL courses, and a scholarship recipient, and now a postsecondary student in a biotech certificate program. She participated in the panel to share her perspective of the value of the scholarship to propel her to higher levels of achievement and provide flexible funds in advance of any school-based aid.

Loh-Sze Leung, of SkillWorks, spoke of the public-private advocacy ventures she has been engaged with in Massachusetts to address adult education and skill development issues, with some legislative successes that funded aid and projects. Some of her tips from advocacy work were to “mobilize students to tell their own stories to legislators”, and “to track success and use data”, preferably local data.

Nate Anderson, of Jobs for the Future, spoke about Accelerating Opportunities, an effort that is underway in seven states to accelerate students without a high school credential through to post-secondary success.  He highlighted several creative solutions states were employing to fill the gap between adult education and credit bearing college courses, such as “braiding” federal funding streams to support the program, waiving tuition for the first semester of college for adult education students, or working strategically with untraditional partners such as the foster care fund. These ideas and others are in JFF’s Innovative Ideas Database, part of their Braided Funding Toolkit.

Brenda Dann-Messier, Assistant Secretary of OVAE, was a respondent to the panel. She acknowledged the challenges faced by students, programs, and advocacy groups and celebrated the creative and innovative ideas the panelists had outlined. She shared several Administration initiatives that are underway to address some of specific challenges including the proposed College Rating System to make college costs more transparent, proposed loan defaults initiative, and proposed experimental sites for financial aid flexibility.

Watch the Ed.gov blog to stay up to date on these initiatives.