Adult education becomes a bigger priority in Missouri
Missouri places more emphasis on higher education opportunities for adults.
The Missouri Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development created the Adult Learners Network with partners across the state and recently hosted a workshop to identify barriers to education processes adults. One of the department’s priority bills this session also aimed to support adult education.
“Whenever it comes to adults, we know they are underserved in higher education,” said Jessica Duren, director of communications at MDHEWD. “And part of that is because our institutions aren’t necessarily ready to help students who don’t fit the traditional model, which comes straight out of high school through college.”
According to MDHEWD strategic planning documents, approximately 1.3 million adults in Missouri have no post-secondary education. Forty-two percent of white adults and about 28 percent of black and Hispanic adults in Missouri have earned higher education certificates or degrees, and 46 percent of adults in urban areas and 29 percent of adults in rural areas of the state.
Adults as a percentage of all Missouri students have declined 40% over the past 10 years, according to department strategic planning documents.
“We’re talking about a population that can only work part-time, supporting their own families,” Duren said. “Really helping people who may have started college but never finished or even adults who never went and are now looking to change careers or upskill in order to get a promotion .”
She said the department’s efforts to support more opportunities for adults to engage in higher education continue.
According to MDHEWD’s strategic plan, Missouri is to have the highest educational attainment and labor force participation in the Midwest by 2030.
Duren said the state would not achieve that goal with just traditional high schoolers going to college.
“When it comes to educational attainment, we know that the population of the high school senior class has been shrinking and the senior class is actually leveling off,” she said. “So we can’t expect to necessarily increase the number of Missourians with a degree or certificate simply by relying on the survey of this traditional high school class coming out of high school and straight into college. “
Duren said the MDHEWD will continue what it has always done to support students’ transition from high school to college, but that is not enough. The state needs an additional 220,375 adults with post-secondary education to meet projected labor demands for 2030, according to departmental strategic planning documents.
In terms of workforce participation, Duren said jobs statewide require more education now than they have in the past.
“So we need to focus on those adults to help them get a certificate or degree to get high-quality jobs that will be sustainable across the state,” she said.
The MDHEWD launched the Adult Learners Network with higher education and workforce development partners in January. The network is charged with studying the issue of adult access to higher education and supporting efforts to make colleges and universities more effective in serving adults.
Participation in the Adult Learners Network is voluntary and open to higher education institutions and any other collaborative partners who have an interest in serving adult learners, Duren said. The network has 39 members, according to the ministry’s website.
In May, the MDHEWD held its first Student Journey Mapping Workshop to identify and remove barriers to adult education.
With 12 state colleges and universities participating, Duren said the workshop was designed to share best practices for improving processes and becoming more efficient.
Institutions were asked to review part of a process they have in place that involves the adult student population and look for gaps in communication or barriers to access.
One institution looked at the process from when a student applies to when they enroll. After mapping out the process, Duren said the institution found it lacked a prompt for accepted students to access financial aid.
Ultimately, she said, the goal was for participants to return to their colleges and universities with easier processes for adults to engage with the institution.
Reception among higher education institutions has been positive, Duren said, as many know adults need to be served, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has rattled the workforce.
The department received 18 applications from colleges and universities interested in participating in the workshop, Duren said, but it was capped at 12. She said the department hopes to hold similar workshops in the future.
On the legislative front, the renewal of the Accelerated Workforce Incentive Grant – a program designed to cover the costs of adults returning to school for a degree, certificate or credential in a field at high demand – was a priority for the MDHEWD this legislative session.
The grants are restricted to Missouri adults 25 or older who earn less than $40,000 a year, have not been enrolled in school for at least two years, and have not completed a four-year degree. Scholarship amounts are for remaining tuition or fees not covered by other state or federal student aid programs.
The Fast Track program was originally slated to end in 2019, but a bill passed by the Missouri General Assembly extends it through 2029. The bill also expands grant funding to adults pursuing education and training programs. learning approved. It also replaces a provision that required participants to live and work in Missouri for three years after graduation with a requirement that participants live in the state for two years before obtaining the grant.
The Legislature appropriated $4.7 million for the Fast Track program in the state budget this year.
The state budget and Fast Track bill await Governor Mike Parson’s signature for approval.