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Seizing the Momentum: Takeaways From CAEL’s Second LASS Academy

Completion and enrollment rates tend to be lower among Hispanic populations, and it’s up to higher ed institutions to create programming and services that make education more accessible to them.

From 2018 to 2021, I had the privilege of overseeing CAEL’s inaugural Latino and Adult Student Success (LASS) Academy. Partnerships are what power our academy model, from the funders who make it possible to the subject matter experts who help the participants identify, attain and sustain meaningful outcomes, to the collaboration and peer learning that flourish among the institutions themselves. To maintain these communities of practice, we integrated both formal and informal networking opportunities throughout the academy. It was this frank but nonjudgmental continuum of collaboration that gave me the most hope that the academy’s impact would be felt well beyond its three-year run.

As it turns out, that momentum was so strong that it led to a second LASS Academy cohort, launched in 2022 and made possible by grants from Greater Texas Foundation and Strada Education Network. This second academy focuses on areas where the greatest challenges—and opportunities—arose during the initial program, including increasing Latino and adult enrollment, awarding credit for prior learning to Latino and adults to accelerate degree completion and improving retention of Latino and adult students through personalized coaching. As we approach the conclusion of the second academy, whose formal activities wind down next month, I can outline some of the key takeaways our participants shared throughout this second academy and ahead of the formal report we will publish later this year.

The participating institutions in the current LASS Academy cohort, which I also had the honor of leading, include Austin Community College, South Texas College, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. All are federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institutions. As Excelencia in Education, a partner to both LASS Academies, notes in its latest research, the completion rate among Latino students at public four-year institutions lags behind the aggregate national completion rate (60% vs. 69%). In 2022, the share of Latino adults (25+) who had only a high school diploma or less was 33% and 25%, respectively, compared to that of non-Hispanic white adults, which was 28% and 9%, respectively. The population of Latino adults almost doubled between 2000 and 2020. They are more likely to be first-generation college students. They also have the highest labor force participation rate and are overrepresented in low-wage occupations. These data underscores the importance of Latino and adult learners to CAEL’s mission and vision. At the same time, academy findings offer insight that can improve service to adult learners at any institution.

Unsurprisingly, credit for prior learning was among the academy’s focal points. That includes CAEL’s technical assistance to Austin Community College, which focused on increasing CPL credits awarded to adult learners. CAEL’s assistance included a webinar on CPL fundamentals, a CPL policy review, CPL process mapping and access to CAEL’s Credit Predictor Pro.

ACC leveraged the academy’s data services and the resources it made available, which helped identify needs and decide the CPL focus. When reflecting on the impact of the LASS Academy, participating ACC staff underscore the need to establish a process for consistent and ongoing data collection and dissemination. They also stress the importance of holistic, student-centered communication to ensure all stakeholders can access information in a way that best serves them throughout their college journey. They highly value a culture of kindness and make sure institutional talent (staff, faculty, administrators, trustees) are grounded in the actions that ensure a sense of belonging among students. Since leadership is foundational to change, it’s critical to foster buy-in. Those with decision-making responsibilities and resource oversight (financial, talent, infrastructure, etc.) should be brought into conversations early and often.

South Texas College prioritized increasing Latino and adult enrollment during its Academy experience. CAEL connected STC with CollegeAPP, a data analytics service company and CAEL partner that specializes in adult learner recruitment, to provide technical assistance. CollegeAPP can identify individual adults with an intent to seek education by utilizing large sample surveys and machine learning predictive analytics. Using this database information, CollegeAPP collaborated with South Texas College to identify target audience clusters, provide consultation on effective messaging and recruitment, and track the campaign performance using success metrics.

STC Academy participants recognized the advantages of increasing stakeholder awareness of adult learner statistics, difficulties and needs. They found that sharing results that have a direct impact on Latino and adult learners helped sustain engagement with these stakeholders. While their work centered on enrollment, they recommend looking beyond it as well. Working with a larger network of internal and external partners to focus on providing wraparound services for Latino learners and adults, they argue, contributes to long-term program sustainability. Finally, they caution that, while technology is efficient, it may not necessarily operate well with all target student demographics. They suggest evaluating data and making any required changes based on the platform(s) chosen to engage with target audiences.

The University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley also benefited from a connection to a CAEL partner. Through the academy, the university gained access to technical assistance from InsideTrack, CAEL’s fellow Strada Collaborative member. This capability focused on UTRGV’s goal of improving retention of adult learners through personalized coaching. InsideTrack’s evidence-based methodology leverages the power of coaching interventions to improve student retention, persistence and satisfaction. InsideTrack’s support during the academy included providing training on its holistic coaching model to academic support staff and leadership.

Among the takeaways UTRGV academic support staff and leadership highlighted was avoiding assumptions and generalizations in favor of getting to know adult learners and their unique needs. Like their academy peers, they stressed stakeholder importance, citing the need to identify them and the role they play and to keep them engaged. That includes designing formative and summative developmental measures and disseminating updates to stakeholders regularly for decision-making purposes. Codesigning interventions promotes relevancy, ownership and buy-in, they said, and plans should be designed for scalability and sustainability from the onset.

Both CPL and a focus on improving retention of adult learners through personalized coaching were additional priorities in CAEL’s work with Texas A&M University—Corpus Christi, which also received a suite of CPL resources to help expand its CPL program and benefited from technical assistance from InsideTrack. Among the takeaways TAMU-CC participants cited is the need to get to know your data to understand your Latino adult student population. Echoing ACC’s experience, they stress the importance of involving stakeholders early to imagine and discover your ideal state. They also caution against resisting new approaches, urging practitioners, “There is no failure, just feedback.”

Just like with our first LASS Academy, as this cohort ends, the momentum it has created is only beginning. The work undertaken has fostered promising innovations poised to persist through continued collaboration long after our final formal meeting in May. I look forward to sharing a more detailed summary, including KPIs and other outcomes, shortly after that. In the meantime, I appreciate the institutions that helped us achieve together far more than we could have accomplished apart. If you have suggestions for future cohorts that could benefit from our academy model or are interested in your institution participating in a future CAEL Academy, please contact us at to learn more.