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Should Public Financial Aid be Made Available to Continuing Education Students? (Part 3)

Should Public Financial Aid be Made Available to Continuing Education Students? (Part 3)
Adults are still considered the minority student in higher education and governments have been slow to introduce programs that meet their needs.

This is the third installment in a six-part series by Karen LaMarsh on financial aid for continuing education (CE) students. In the last installment, LaMarsh put together a case study of her home state, Georgia, and their HOPE program, which explicitly excludes CE students. In this piece, she tries to understand why this is the case, and discusses the wider picture of CE and financial aid.

CE and Financial Aid

So, why are CE certificates not included in eligible coursework for Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship? Furthermore, why are CE students sometimes excluded from applying to financial aid?

Higher education is the pathway to opportunity and leads to upward mobility in our society. Postsecondary students need to enter academic programs that result in degrees and certificates of value that prepare them for either further education or entry into the workforce. “Thoughtful consideration of how postsecondary finance policy can be improved across programs is necessary.”[1] In her featured article, “Pilot Innovative Approaches to Funding,” Hyslop recommends postsecondary funding strategies be used as a tool to help students prepare for the demands of the 21st-century workforce. She suggests innovative funding approaches be introduced to cover non-credit courses within full-time equivalent (FTE) reimbursements. This, according to Hyslop, will reduce financial strain on institutions and students while also allowing the institution to better serve students seeking out workforce development credentials. Ultimately, she believes incentive funding should be based on course or program completion, not enrollment, and that particular performance expectations should be created for these courses. [2]

In 2012, Rose and Stuckey published their report on funding innovative programs for adults that analyzed the ways funding sources have shaped the entire field of adult education. They write:

While adult education has expanded exponentially in the past twenty years, adult educators have been increasingly marginalized. The evidence at this point seems to point to the ways that these funding decisions are made and the lack of coherence within the field of adult education. All too often, adult educators tend to view adult education in a vacuum. [3]

This is especially true for CE. With the advent of the Complete College America initiative, CE certificate programs’ value could be truly realized and funding could follow.

Complete College America was established in 2009 as a national non-profit with a mission to work with states to significantly increase the number of Americans with quality career certificates or college degrees and to close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. With the national attention the Complete College America initiative has garnered and the following directive that has been given to the states, certificate programs are an important aspect of this initiative:

It is vitally important that states ensure that students have the opportunity to pursue the full range of higher education pathways that not only increase the likelihood of college completion, but also landing good careers. A too often underutilized strategy – but one that can deliver greater income returns than associate and even some bachelor’s degrees – is certificates. And for students balancing the jobs they must have with the advanced education they desire – a situation faced by most American college students today – completing a certificate can be the most direct path to college completion and career success.[4]

In fact, Complete College America further emphasized the importance of certificate programs to helping more adults find positions in the workforce. In essence, they argues that increased focus on, and investment in, certificate programs is critical to revitalizing the economy and supporting more jobless on their path toward the labor market. Complete College America believes the number of certificates awarded must double by 2016 from 2011 levels.[5]

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[1] Alisha Hyslop, “Pilot Innovative Approaches to Funding.” Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers Vol. 83 (5), May 2008.

[2] Ibid

[3] Amy D. Rose, and Bridget D. Stuckey. “Funding Innovative Programs for Adults: Searching for Policy on the Improvement of Higher Education.” 2012. Retrieved from

[4] “Certificates Count: An Analysis of Sub-baccalaureate Certificates,” Complete College America, December 2010, available from Complete College America, accessed June 12, 2013.

[5] Ibid

This is the third installment in a six-part series by Karen LaMarsh exploring the availability of federal and state financial aid funding for non-traditional students enrolling in CE programs. 

To read other articles in the series, please click below.

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