$5 million grant program to foster innovation in adult postsecondary success

NEWS RELEASE: The Michigan Center for Adult College Success today unveiled a $5 million grant program for colleges and universities to help working-age adults earn the postsecondary credentials that open the door to good-paying jobs and meet Michigan’s need for skilled talent.

Innovation Investment Awards (IIA) of up to $1 million will go to postsecondary institutions that show they are ready to launch effective, lasting improvements to systems that help students 25 and older obtain credentials, said Jeremy Hendges, executive director of The Michigan Center for Adult College Success.

“We’re looking for learner-centered innovations in areas such as credit for prior learning, competency-based education, holistic advising, flexible scheduling and other evidence-based practices,” Hendges said. “Adult learners are a diverse population with diverse challenges, and we anticipate a wide range of ideas for supporting their success.”

The Innovation Investment Awards open a new chapter for The Center, an initiative of West Michigan CEO alliance TalentFirst. The Center was established and funded by the Michigan Legislature in 2023 to support the “Sixty by 30” goal of increasing the number of working-age adults with a skill certificate or college degree from 50.5% today to 60% by 2030. It was designed to complement tuition supports such as Michigan Reconnect.

The Innovation Investment Awards aim to address the wide range of obstacles faced by adult students — family and work obligations, for example — by driving improvement to support systems. The awards are intended to augment the student success grants being administered by Michigan’s Office of Sixty by 30.

Sarah Szurpicki, director of the Office of Sixty by 30, applauded The Center’s work toward a shared goal.

“Postsecondary education is absolutely critical to the state’s long-term strategy, and in a time when the majority of good-paying jobs require education beyond high school, it’s also critical for Michigan families,” Szurpicki said. “As the state grows its investments in higher education access and success, we also need partners like The Center to foster and advance innovation across the sector — particularly when it comes to serving adult students.”

TalentFirst President Kevin Stotts noted that, due to declining birthrates, Michigan cannot achieve its Sixty by 30 goal without increasing the number of adults with a postsecondary credential. However, the state’s current completion rates for adult learners are below the national averages and the rates of our neighboring states.

“Education and skills are the currency of the modern, knowledge-based economy,” Stotts said. “We know employers examine the quality of a region’s workforce when looking to expand or relocate. A strong economy depends on an educated workforce — and for Michigan, that must include working-age adults.”

The request for proposals is available on The Center’s website. Applications will be accepted May 1-July 15, with awards announced mid-August.

In the months leading up to the application process, The Center has been partnering with Education Strategy GroupSova Solutions, and CollegeAPP to work with colleges and universities from across the state in an innovation design sprint called the Michigan-Regional Adult Initiative for Skills and Education (MI-RAISE) Design Lab. These sessions have focused on assessing region-specific data and exploring new evidence-based approaches to best serve adult learners.

These convenings have helped fulfill The Center’s purpose to serve as the state’s primary resource for increasing adult enrollment and completion of credentials, said Todd Gustafson, president and chief executive officer of Kinexus Group and chair of The Center’s statewide governing council.

“Michigan’s postsecondary system is unique in its decentralized structure, which encourages innovation but limits dissemination of proven methods,” Gustafson said. “By partnering with community colleges and universities across Michigan, we seek to elevate and share best practices so we can better serve adult learners statewide. This will benefit all our postsecondary institutions — and the adult learners they serve.”

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Learn more about the challenges of improving postsecondary completion of adults, and The Center’s approach to addressing those challenge, in the 2023 report, “Adult Postsecondary Education in Michigan & Beyond.

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