Policymakers can support policies that improve access to postsecondary education by removing technological and institutional barriers for working adult learners.
Online education continues to grow in popularity, even as overall college enrollment declines. The online format is particularly attractive to working adult learners, rural learners, and people in education deserts, who are drawn to the flexibility and accessibility of online learning. Although online learning can remove common obstacles to college education, barriers still exist. Removing these barriers will help ensure that online education, the only workable option for many potential students, can be more affordable, accessible, and adaptable.
Working adult learners, specifically rising and stranded talent, invest a high percentage of their time and finances for their postsecondary education. Because of this, any barriers they encounter—no matter how small—may prove to be the tipping point for them to stop out or drop out. Because of this, higher education institutions and policymakers have an obligation to identify and remove technological and institutional structures that currently block learners from their path to success.
To thrive in online education, working adult learners must have the proper connections, equipment, and digital skills. Policymakers can propose that the costs of online learning (such as internet connectivity and equipment access) be eligible for financial aid or other student supports. Institutions and educational systems can partner with private corporations or public entities to make access to online learning more available and affordable. In addition, policies and programs that provide digital literacy support and training can help working adult learners succeed.