November 8, 2012
12-303

Thressea Boyd
Director of Communications

Valdosta State University Recognized Nationally for Adult Learning Success

Brooke Starr knows the importance of a college degree. At a crossroads in her professional career, Starr enrolled in VSU's Workforce Education and Development program. An instructor in Wiregrass Georgia Technology College's cosmetology program, Starr credits VSU's Adult and Military Programs with helping her work toward her college degree.

VALDOSTA -- Valdosta State University's innovative efforts to improve access and college completion for adults has earned the university national recognition from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). VSU President William J. McKinney officially accepted the 2012 CAEL Institutional Service Award today at the organization's annual conference in Washington, D.C. 

"An engaged and innovative university is one that is flexible and able to meet the needs of many different kinds of students, in a multitude of circumstances," McKinney said. "I am so proud of VSU's leadership in the education of returning adult students and honored to have been recognized nationally by CAEL."

"CAEL values the efforts of Valdosta State University to create educational opportunities for working adults and other traditionally underserved populations and is proud to recognize the ongoing accomplishments of the institution with this year's Institutional Service Award," said CAEL President and CEO Pam Tate. "We are particularly appreciative of Valdosta State's pioneering efforts in Prior Learning Assessment and the service of Jerry Merwin on our national LearningCounts.org Task Force."

In selecting Valdosta State, CAEL representatives stated, "For many years, VSU has worked with regional military bases to serve their needs, and facilitating educational opportunities for active duty military and veterans continues to be a priority. Their desire to value the experiences, perspectives and learning acquired during military service led them to develop numerous programs focused specifically on the adult learner. VSU has not only been exemplary in providing services to its adult learners, but has opened doors for adults throughout the state system."

Serving Adult Learners

To help the growing number of adult learners earn a college degree, VSU established the office of Adult and Military Programs (AMP) to improve degree completion for adult learners with particular attention to members of the military and veterans.

"We have national data to support that many adult learners are returning to college. There is a periodic trend that occurs with economic ups and downs. When the economy is down the people want to go back to school to keep their current job or look for a new one," said Dr. Jerry Merwin, director of AMP. "However, I think it goes beyond that. There seems to be a growing awareness in our country that having a college degree is more of a necessity than it has been in the past."

VSU has a history of serving adult learners. In 2009, the University System of Georgia (USG) appointed Valdosta State as the lead institution to work with two- and four-year public institutions as part of the Adult Learning Consortium (ALC). 

The ALC, comprised of 13 USG institutions, works to improve services and programs for adults who have returned to college to earn a one-year certificate, an associate's or bachelor's degree. 

According to Dr. Patricia Paterson, co-director for the USG's Adult Learning Consortium (ALC), the primary focus of the ALC is to facilitate college completion of adult learners. 

"We are proud that the lead institution in the ALC is receiving this honor. This national award recognizes the leadership of Valdosta State and the Adult Learning Consortium as well as the innovative efforts of the entire University System of Georgia in adult college completion."

CAEL also recognized VSU's leadership role in advocating Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) implementation throughout Georgia's public colleges and universities. 

Part of a nationally recognized process, PLA allows a student to earn college credits from work experience, professional training, military service and other professional certificate programs. These experiences are presented in a portfolio that contains sufficient support information and documentation. 

Valdosta State developed a training and awareness program to explain to faculty the validity of the PLA assessment process and demonstrate that credits would be awarded only if the learning outcomes were verified as college-level. Additionally, VSU has been instrumental in developing a network of faculty assessors across the state and in providing resources for institutions which seek to develop their own PLA programs. 

According to Merwin, in an effort to identify areas where the university could improve services and programs for adult students, VSU also administered surveys to both adult learners and faculty. 

"The results of the surveys helped us develop a program that is more responsive to the needs and concerns that are priorities of adult learners," said Merwin. "We have expanded our efforts in recruiting active duty military and veterans, as well as adults who have some college credits but have not yet earned a degree."  

The survey also identified concerns from adult learners regarding the time and day courses are offered. 

Valdosta State addressed this issue through the implementation of online undergraduate degrees specifically designed to meet the needs of working adults, military members, and students at two-year colleges and technical schools who are often unable to move to communities with a college or university.  

As part of its outreach to adult learners, especially active duty military and veterans, Valdosta State now offers undergraduate online degrees in Organizational Leadership, Office Administration and Technology, Criminal Justice and Legal Assistant Studies. These programs offer flexibility and accessibility for working adults who want to earn a bachelor's degree.

Judy Wertheim, CAEL's vice president for Higher Education Services, noted that VSU's development of online courses was "specifically designed to meet the unique needs of full-time professional, military personnel, working parents and other adults juggling multiple responsibilities.

In presenting the award, Wertheim said, "CAEL and adult learners across the state of Georgia are grateful for VSU's continual efforts to open doors and unlock opportunities to earn a college degree."

Creating a More Highly Educated Georgia

Valdosta State continues its efforts to reach the underserved population of adults who do not have a college degree. As part of the Complete College Georgia initiative, Valdosta State is strengthening existing programs and creating new ones to improve overall student success, especially in the area of access for working adults and members of the military.

A study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found that by 2018 approximately 60 percent of jobs in Georgia will require some college education or training. Currently in Georgia only 42 percent of adults have a college education (certificate, associate's degree, or bachelor's degree or higher). An estimated 250,000 additional college graduates are needed to bridge the 18 percent gap in Georgia's professional workforce demand.

For more information on VSU's Adult and Military Programs, visit the Website at http://www.valdosta.edu/academics/amp/