October 10, 2022 – Education

In Case You Missed It: Jeff Selingo explores the needs of adults learners


According to journalist and higher education author Jeff Selingo, there are 95 million adult learners in the United States who never went to college or did not finish. Many of them will need to acquire new skills to find new opportunities for fulfilling, exciting work — and most may be interested in postsecondary education even if they did not think of college before. 

In a recent online event sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation, Selingo and panelists debated how institutions could better serve the needs of those learners. The group discussed topics ranging from credit for prior learning, recruiting and retention, costs, tying the labor market to curricula, and what it means to build learner voice into strategic planning.

Diane Tavenner, co-founder and CEO of Summit Public Schools, said the college for all model does not meet the needs of many people. She said learners want to better understand the potential return on investment, and want to be able to connect a curriculum with how it might open doors in their lives outside the classroom.

Barbara Gooch, an adult learner at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI), said adult learners are concerned with costs and want flexible, individualized learning opportunities. One of the things that most attracted her to UMPI was that it integrated competency-based learning, which allows a learner to move on from a topic once they have mastered it. 

“Self-paced is massive for me,” Gooch said. 

Additional panelists were Sabrina Sanders, director of the Toro Reengagement Program at California State University-Dominguez Hills, and Scott Ralls, president of Wake Technical Community College. 

Common Group CEO George Vinton offered advice to postsecondary educators on how to integrate the “learner voice” into curriculum and program design. Learner voice represents what students, both past and potential, like, utilize, and express a preference for when it comes to education, Vinton explained. Incorporating the learner voice is the way education “will become responsive to the needs of communities and the needs of individuals,” he said.

Watch the full event with Jeff Selingo

This event is part of a series of discussions the Charles Koch Foundation will sponsor with Selingo. Stay tuned to this page for future events.