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CAEL Stakeholders Are Key to Updated Policy Priorities


With adult learners making up a larger proportion of the higher ed population, they need groups like CAEL to advocate for their needs and interests.

As a national nonprofit membership organization, CAEL has engaged in public policy development and advocacy on and off throughout its 50-year tenure. Today, CAEL’s work continues to be centered on institutional and programmatic practices that serve adults looking to upskill or reskill in the postsecondary landscape. However, public policy is an important piece of ensuring that work moves forward at scale. In addition, it relates to several pillars of our theory of change, especially around systemic impact, which if implemented correctly impacts partners and individuals in kind. 

In crafting our most recent policy framework, CAEL engaged a group of members who volunteered their time to help us forge our newest iteration of public policy engagement. It included an advisory group with employer representatives from our two industry-education partnerships, Energy Providers Coalition for Education (EPCE) and the National Alliance for Communications Technology Education and Learning (NACTEL). The advisory group also included members from four-year colleges and universities, community colleges and workforce boards. Together we identified common barriers and challenges we encounter in serving adult learners and workers. What was exciting was the chance to make a difference by looking at how policies at the state, local or federal level could be helping or hurting efforts. The result is our updated policy framework, which outlines the most common themes in these conversations. 

Not surprisingly, all CAEL members have a focus on and passion for unique ways to center adult learners, our first key priority. Unsurprisingly, the most all-encompassing issue for adults is our second priority, affordability, which can mean anything from affording tuition to not being able to give up a job to return to school to needing childcare or help paying rent. Finally, reflecting the new reality of the workforce and higher education ecosystem, our third overarching priority focuses on partnerships, which includes a myriad of ways to support cohesive collaboration among postsecondary education, workforce, economic development, employers, human services, community-based organizations, government agencies and more. 

Many of our members and partners are already putting these policy items into practice or advocating for them locally or at the federal level. CAEL has recently assisted with efforts in Delaware and Indiana to issue statewide guidance around expanding credit for prior learning. In Delaware, CAEL facilitated the process, which included gaining input and buy-in from key stakeholders and issuing guidance. We are now helping the state provide technical assistance to higher ed institutions working to implement the guidance.

Another example of policy in action is the Adult Learner Centered Equity Framework in a SNAP Network initiative or ALCEF for much-needed brevity. ALCEF aims to increase the number of community colleges providing SNAP E&T services and expand services at those already utilizing the program. SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) is a federal program that can provide a 50% reimbursement on nonfederal funds spent on SNAP-eligible students for expenses like tuition, books, fees and other support services. Thus far, over 15 community colleges have participated in technical assistance CAEL and partners Seattle Jobs Initiative, the American Public Human Services Association and Grant Associates provided. If you are interested in learning more about this initiative, please consider joining us in Atlanta on April 25 for a free half-day convening on SNAP E&T.

CAEL has broadened its involvement in various policy coalitions including those focused on the Farm Bill’s reauthorization, which oversees SNAP and SNAP E&T. While SNAP E&T supports transitional jobs or work-based learning programs with an income component, the current structure considers income from these opportunities against participants’ SNAP eligibility. Consequently, working individuals in a SNAP E&T program may lose SNAP benefits due to the income they receive from the program, leading to their exclusion from both SNAP and the E&T program. CAEL signed on to a Center for Employment Opportunities effort to exclude income derived from a public workforce training program from SNAP income calculations. In late 2023, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Sen. Pete Ricketts (R-NE) introduced the Training & Nutrition Stability Act, which would do just that.

In addition, many organizations including CAEL signed on to urge the U.S. Department of Education to establish a negotiated rulemaking session on student loan debt relief. This effort, led by Young Invincibles, was featured in a USA Today piece that specifically cites the pressure of advocates as key to establishing this new session. Nonprofits like CAEL and its members hold significant power to inform and impact public policy. Over the coming months and years, we hope to continue to empower and inform our members to engage in this important work, and to assist in policy efforts at the state, local and federal levels that help move our mission forward.