Supporting Adult Learners Through ATB and Dual Enrollment

28 Sep 2023

Adult studentsCalifornia is stepping up support for the educational and career aspirations of all students, including adult learners. The governor’s recent executive order to create a master plan for career education calls on system and agency leaders to create a coherent, streamlined path from K-12 to college and career for all Californians by knocking down silos between institutions and building connections with employers. Vision 2030 for the California Community Colleges builds on this further by proactively taking college to students through “expanding equitable dual enrollment pathways to adult and high school students; offering credit for prior learning to veterans and working adults through employers and associations; working through community-based organizations to bring workforce training to low-income adults; and providing instruction through flexible modalities.”

This fills an enormous need. There are more than 10 million California adults without a postsecondary degree—adults aged 25-64 who didn’t graduate high school, who graduated but never went to college, or have some college but no degree—and a disproportionate number are low-income or from communities of color. Many adult learners face obstacles in accessing postsecondary education; many are working and have family caregiving responsibilities. And adults without a high school diploma or equivalency face particularly steep challenges, as they don’t have access to the same financial aid resources as young people or adults with a high school diploma. Although there are a few mechanisms to support them in accessing college and gaining aid, these are piecemeal and hard to access.

Some colleges and adult schools are partnering to build programs that support adult learners to work on both attaining their high school diploma equivalency and taking college courses through dual enrollment. And they’re incorporating the use of Ability to Benefit (ATB), a special provision in federal law that enables adult learners without a high school diploma/equivalency to access federal financial aid.

CLP recently supported Saddleback College and Coast Community College District in exploring how to build and scale such programs and utilize ATB. We’ll be co-presenting with them at SSSC 2024 in a session on Redesigning Practices to Intentionally Engage Adult Learners: Leveraging Regional Approaches to Implement Ability to Benefit. You can also read Transitioning Adult Learners to College, a CLP user guide for ATB and adult dual enrollment.