Kentucky Looks to Make Higher Education More Accessible for Adult Learners

The state hopes increasing degrees and training will increase workforce participation and open up more career opportunities for Kentuckians.
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  • Kentucky ranks 35th in the nation in the educational attainment level of its workforce.
  • The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education released a plan that calls for higher education to be more accessible to adult learners.
  • The plan includes recommendations to increase financial aid and simplify the admissions process.

Kentucky has a plan to boost its low workforce participation rate: Make higher education more accessible for adult learners.

A statewide action plan from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education released earlier this month outlines how the state can make college more accessible for adult learners. The plan calls for expanded financial assistance, streamlined admissions, and ramped-up data collection in a bid to boost education for the Bluegrass State's workforce.

"Kentucky ranks 35th in the nation in the educational attainment level of its workforce, and getting degrees and credentials into the hands of working-age adults is key to building a strong economy," Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education president Aaron Thompson said in a release. "We have adults in Kentucky who do not have the education and training they need to participate in the knowledge economy and are left with few options for employment that allow their families to thrive."

Kentucky has a workforce participation rate of 56.3% — one of the lowest in the country, according to the release. The state wants to boost the percentage of residents with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 60% by 2030 to both increase workforce participation and open up more career opportunities for adult learners.

The majority of unfilled jobs in Kentucky require some level of postsecondary education or training, according to the report, and the state's low workforce participation rate "depresses economic development, limits knowledge-economy job creation, curbs social and economic mobility and reduces enthusiasm for credential attainment beyond high school."

The plan centers around adults aged 25-39 who have completed high school or some college but haven't earned a credential and aren't making a living wage, according to the release.

The plan calls for a "statewide, one-stop student information portal" with resources geared toward adult learners. The plan also centers around debt forgiveness agreements, application fee waivers, and a simplified admissions process in a bid to boost the number of adult learners.

"To reach our educational attainment goal, we have to focus on both adult learners and traditional-age students," Thompson said. "Giving Kentuckians the resources and information they need to further their education, regardless of what stage of life they are in, is essential to creating greater economic opportunity and social mobility in our commonwealth."

The plan also calls for higher education programs to make institutional changes to become more adult-learner friendly. These changes include boosting programs that help students with needs like food, housing and transportation, according to the release.

Amid a nationwide scramble to develop a skilled workforce, state governments and individual colleges alike have sought to engage adult learners. In July, Ohio liberal arts schools Antioch University and Otterbein University announced their plan to pool resources and create a nationwide system focusing on adult learners.

Private companies have also sought out higher education as a tool for workforce development. Amazon is investing $1.2 billion to educate more than 300,000 hourly workers in high-demand fields by 2025. In 2021, Microsoft announced a campaign to recruit 250,000 people from community colleges into cybersecurity by 2025.

"Creating more academic, financial, and student support programs tailored to the needs of adult learners is urgent," the Kentucky report reads. "Because adult learners are disproportionately low-income and students of color, better serving them also helps close critical equity gaps that hamper our progress and unfairly disadvantage a growing segment of the state's working-age population."