workstream 04

How can we best support the academic engagement and persistence of working learners?

This workstream focuses on what we know and what we urgently need to learn about the role of engagement and self-direction in increasing academic persistence and success for working learners.

Our guide through the workstream will be Flora, a thirty-two year old single mother of two small children. Flora works at a large health insurance company as a Tier I patient care representative. She is exceptionally good at helping to solve patient problems. She knows that healthcare is a growing field and would love to advance in her career.  Unfortunately for Flora, her company is planning to automate customer service and reduce Tier I staff. Instead, it will increase Tier II positions, which require a greater level of independent problem-solving, oral communication skills, fluency with medical terminology, and greater knowledge of the insurance industry. These positions also require an associate degree.  Flora has a certificate in customer service from training she did at work as well and earned six credits from her local community college; however, she does not have a degree.

Flora has the smarts, tenacity, and interpersonal skills to flourish at a higher level in her company and in the industry.  What she doesn’t have is the time and money to go back to school – or a model of learning that meets her where she is as a working learner.

In our first meeting together, we will look at new models that change up the traditional learn-first, work-second paradigm, such as credential-as-you-go, competency-based education, experiential learning, learning at/through work, authentic assessment, PLA, and stackable microcredentials. Would they work for Flora? How do we know? What might an ideal model look like?

In our second meeting, we will reexamine some of the stalwarts of adult learning theory, e.g., Dewey and Knowles, as well as more recent theorists. Do they help us understand and address Flora’s needs as a learner?  What is missing?

In our third meeting, we will look at academic persistence and success from Flora’s perspective. Do leading models of persistence, such as Tinto, accurately account for Flora’s situation and personal/career goals?  What might a persistence research agenda look like if it focused on Flora and other working learners?


Cathrael ("Kate") Kazin


Working Learner College Students: A Diverse Not-So-New Majority

University of Arizona sociologist and higher education researcher Regina Deil-Amen offers an aerial view of how the evolution of the US racial-political economy has substantially grown the ranks of working learners in college, creating new opportunities for individual and institutional transformation, but also new forms of precarity for working learners.


Routine and Adaptive Expertise in Working Learners

Stanford learning scientists Dan Schwartz and Kristen Blair introduce the distinction between routine and adaptive expertise, and consider strategies that educators and employers might pursue to nurture the development of adaptive expertise among working learners.


University Extension as a Strategy to Serve Working Learners

UC-San Diego’s John Skrentny and Mary Walshok summarize the rich legacy of university extensions and suggest how they remain powerful tools for opportunity creation in the US today.



Cathrael ("Kate") Kazin
Managing Partner, Volta Learning Group
I am leading the workstream on academic engagement and persistence.
Mary Alfred
Professor, Texas A&M University
Supporting adult learners as they navigate education, work, and family. Advocating for living wages for low-income adult learners. Making education accessible to those who lack supportive resources (familial, community) and the financial means to fully participate.
Kelly Anguiano
Higher Education Consultant,
Jonathan Bissell
Executive Director, San Mateo County Community College District
I'm interested in learning new perspectives on the needs of working learners, and I look forward to helping shape the future of how working learners can be sustainably and practically supported throughout their careers.
Kristen Blair headshot
Kristen Blair
Director of Research, Digital Learning Initiative, Stanford University
Intersection of learning sciences and workforce learning
David Blustein
Professor, Boston College
I am a counseling psychologist who studies work and career. My particular focus is on the psychology of working, with an emphasis on issues such as inequality, access to opportunity, the interplay of psychological and macro-level factors, and public policy about creating a more humane and welcoming workplace. I have interests in the relationship between education and work with a life-span view, encompassing lifelong learning. I hope to learn from the conversations at the convening as well as contribute my perspective on the psychological aspects of work, education, and inequality.
Michelle Cho
Co-Founder and CEO, Gladeo Inc.
I'm most interested in the below 2 topics and can contribute some learnings we have experienced with these 2 topics. *How can we foster stronger connections between working learners, colleges, universities and workplaces? *What systems should we build to observe, measure, and compare the learning, occupational, and other gains from educational opportunities for working learners?
Kristine Clerkin
Managing Partner, Volta Learning Group
All of the topics and questions mentioned are directly relevant to my work of the past decade. I'm especially interested in learning and contributing on the systems question, which must address the deep, molecular change needed in the higher ed sector if it is to stay relevant for working learners. I love the idea of studying working learners from a sociological perspective, rather than the "how do we get them to enroll" marketing perspective usually written about. My dream for education is that it be deeply personalized to learners and their needs and aspirations--from what they study and how much of it to how long it takes to earn a desired credential. I hope we can regard ed tech as an enabler and AI as an enabler but not the driver of a more personalized learning model.
Linda Crismon
Senior Director, Learning Experience Design, Unicon
Farouk Dey
Vice Provost, Johns Hopkins University
Thank you for the kind invitation. As a former leader at Stanford and current VP at Johns Hopkins, I am interested in exploring the paradigm shifts in education and the world of work and how we ensure that access to learning, mentoring, and skills necessary for the future of work is equitable. Success shouldn't depend on luck, background, or social capital. I look forward to engaging in this important conversation with you. Farouk Dey
Kai Drekmeier
Founder & Chief Development Officer, InsideTrack
Manuel Dudley
Vice President of Workforce and Continuing Education, Guilford Technical Community College
Amber Garrison Duncan
Strategy Director, Lumina Foundation
A major focus for Lumina in our new strategic plan are adults of color, who are working learners. I’m very interested in all the questions posed, but in particular discussing adult learning science and curricular models provided by both employers and education, adult learner persistence and completion strategies, and systems to compare learning. We have several investments in the areas so would love to contribute and learn. As a funder we often have the benefit of viewing the landscape of activities and I’ve had the opportunity to work with large employers, military branches and DoD, workforce/technical education, and higher education on these issues.
Jory Hadsell
Executive Director, California Virtual Campus – Online Education Initiative
Community colleges online education, transfer, workforce development, and educational innovation that harnesses thoughtful pedagogy and educational technologies.
Martha Kanter
CEO, College Promise
Today, 338 cities and towns and 30 states plus DC are hosting College Promise programs to provide scholarships and supports for their students. However, the majority serve the youth population. This convening will inform local, state and national policy solutions to widen Promise opportunities for working adults as well as youth. Many policymakers are not familiar with the intersection of working and learning in the lives of our students. Especially recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic in the next few years, this convening could offer new ideas and proposals to incentivize better college and career pathways for students who work and learn concurrently in K-12 and postsecondary education.
Becky Klein-Collins
Vice President, Impact, CAEL
Adult learners have often been overlooked in academic higher ed research. My special areas of expertise are: prior learning assessment/credit for prior learning, institutional policies that support working learners, competency-based education, online learning, student veterans, student parents.
Carissa Little
Associate Dean, Global and Online Education, Stanford University
Sabrina Marschall
Assistant Professor, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
How to the sciences of learning and academic progress Developing non-cognitive and resilience skills for working learners Determining how to build stronger connections between working learners and colleges/universities--especially when the working learners are a traditional college/university
Philip Pizzo
Professor, Stanford University
Elizabeth Roumell
Executive Director, University of Wyoming
Two of my primary areas of research interest include Adult and Workforce Education policy (federal), and the use of online and hyflex delivery modes for making instruction more accessible. I also review grant proposals (for adult ed or IET programming) for various states and federal agencies, and have participated in national-level working groups related to developing a national action plan for adult literacy and education (Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy). Currently, I am a director at an applied research center, and also have background and experience in evaluation, applied research, implementation planning, and community capacity building. I am also an Editor for Adult Education Quarterly, and review for several other journals and outlets in the field. I am most interested in improving the infrastructure and quality of services for workers in the Rocky Mountain region, from New Mexico north to Montana.
Eric Saito
Research and Learning Science Specialist, StraighterLine
I'm interested in thinking about the working adult's learning experience--what are their hopes, what are their diverse sets of needs, what are their fears/pain points? And how do we craft systems and products that are simultaneously broad enough to reach the array of adult learners but tailored and personalized enough to keep individuals engaged.
Steve Schmidt
Professor, East Carolina University
Frederick Shegog
Speaker/Student, The Message LLC
I am grateful and love that my walk of life can help contribute to teaching others different perspectives and journeys to education. Higher ed policy needs changed and the only way to do that is hearing from real stories from all types of backgrounds.
Hadass Sheffer
Independent Consultant, Co-Founder The Graduate! Network, The Graduate! Network
Louis Soares
Chief Learning and Innovation Officer, American Council on Education (ACE)
Jesse Stommel
Executive Director, Hybrid Pedagogy
I have been teaching for 21 years. My research focus is on higher education pedagogy, specifically ungrading and alternative approaches to assessment. My recent writing and presentations have been focused on designing for care and inclusive pedagogies for face-to-face and online learning. I’ve taught undergraduate students at large state schools, liberal arts colleges, and a community college, as well as non-traditional adult students and teachers at all levels of education. It feels as though this event would intersect with my research interests and teaching background.
Jim Tracy
Senior Advisor, Jobs For the Future (JFF)
Larry Walker
Assistant Professor, University of Central Florida
My research focuses on the experiences of Black learners. Specifically, eliminating barriers that impede their progress.
Kristi Wellington-Baker
Washington State Director of Student Success & Strategic Initiatives, Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (SBCTC)
Thank you- Historically, the occupational family tree has been a predictor of new generations of workers career aspiration, post-secondary access, and sector engagement. If leaders are to break this down to center racial and social justice, how can research-practitioner-industry-philanthropic connections build a clear and transparent occupational/ sector network to disrupt this model where invisible walls limit access? I am excited to contribute to a solutions oriented dialogue that considers the role of post-secondary education, researchers, philanthropic thought partners, and industry leaders and builds in engagement of working learners to inform the conversation in three areas: 1- How will working learners be engaged in the dialogue to build an understanding of where the system breaks down and to engage in co-study and co-design of relevant solutions? 2- How can and will research-practitioner-philanthropy-industry partner networks intentionally support co-designed solutions? 3- How can this space can generate meaningful dialogue that results in concrete action steps designed for equitable outcomes?
Susan Yelich Biniecki
Associate Professor, Kansas State University
As a scholar-practitioner within the U.S. and international education environments, I am engaged in adult education initiatives, such as the organization and administration of adult education programs; continuing professional education; community development; and military affiliated education. I am very much looking forward to contributing in the above focus areas to create interdisciplinary bridges among adult learning, the workplace, and higher education institutions in order to develop innovative educational pathways for learners.