The National Adult Learner Coalition

It’s no secret that the higher education ecosystem in the United States was not built with today’s students in mind. Traditional students—an 18-year old enrolling in a full-time degree program straight of high school—are no longer the majority demographic attending colleges and universities across the country. Instead, today’s students are largely non-traditional—they are adults, they are working, they are supporting families while enrolled.

This means the policies that manage higher education across the country need to evolve to ensure they are truly supporting the needs of this population of learners. Unfortunately, adult learners have not had a single, cohesive voice on Capitol Hill lobbying for their needs. Until now.

In February 2017, four major associations joined together to form a cohesive voice advocating for adult students and the institutions that serve them. With support from Lumina Foundation, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), President’s Forum, and University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) came together to form the National Adult Learner Coalition (NALC).

In this Feature, we are publishing articles and interviews from each of these organizations, presenting their unique perspective on why they decided to get involved in this effort and how they expect it to transform the postsecondary environment over the long term.


University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA)

Many Voices are More Impactful Than One: The National Adult Learner Coalition

Affecting change, especially on the national level, is a tough ask in any space but in higher education this work is particularly challenging. However, by taking a collaborative approach, associations focused on the non-traditional student demographic are giving themselves the opportunity to be heard.


The Presidents’ Forum

Coming Together to Effect Change for the Contemporary Student Demographic

Critical changes to the regulatory framework around higher education are needed to reshape the system to better serve adult learners, and through collaboration it’s possible to bring a wide range of expertise around contemporary students to bear in pushing for these changes.


Online Learning Consortium (OLC)

Driving Innovation and Supporting Non-Traditional Access and Success


The NACL takes the onus off individual institutions when it comes to generating support for non-traditional students and more broadly advances the cause of innovation and growth across the postsecondary space.


Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL)

Shifting the Focus of Postsecondary Policy for the Sake of the Knowledge Economy

The knowledge economy relies on having a well educated workforce committed to lifelong learning, but the higher education ecosystem was—and still is—designed around the needs of traditional-age students. This needs to change for the sake of the majority demographic of students, and the heath of the economy.


Lumina Foundation

Adult Learners, the NALC and Achieving the 60-Percent Attainment Goal


The structure of the higher education ecosystem, built to support 18- 22-year-olds who attend college full-time during fall and winter semesters only, limits access and success for the majority population of non-traditional and adult students who are critical to the United States achieving its 60-percent attainment goal.