In the fall of 2021, Achieving the Dream launched the Prioritizing Adult Community College Enrollment (PACCE) initiative in partnership with five other organizations. The program aims to address the steep enrollment declines, particularly for learners aged 25+, that colleges have been facing since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The average age of a community college student is 28, but institutions have historically focused on supporting “traditional” students (aged 18–22)—this can impede adult learners’ ability to access educational resources and to succeed in college. By helping PACCE cohort institutions implement and scale programs aimed at supporting adult learners, ATD and its partners are working to increase equity and expand economic mobility in communities across the country.
Fulton-Montgomery Community College (FMCC) is located in Johnstown, New York, about an hour northwest of Albany. Part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system, the college serves the rural counties of Fulton and Montgomery, an area covering nearly 1,000 square miles.
Like many rural institutions, FMCC is experiencing a significant shift in workforce needs across the area it serves. Dan Fogarty, associate dean of academic and student affairs at FMCC, said that one of the college’s goals when it joined the PACCE initiative was to create career pathways from the institution to the large companies entering the region.
Through cross-department collaboration, intentional engagement with the community, and dedicated leadership, FMCC has developed promising programs that will expand economic opportunities in the area it serves.
The dream team
Work on the PACCE initiative at FMCC was led by the brand-new Business and Community Partnerships department, headed by Christie Davis, director of external partnerships and applied learning, Charlene Dybas, individual studies advisor and associate professor in business, Andrea Scribner, career and transfer specialist/advisor, and Dan Fogarty.
“PACCE was our first initiative as a team and the one that really paved the way for rapid success,” Dan told ATD.
To facilitate the work that lay ahead, the team focused on breaking down silos—in particular, they bridged the gap between student affairs and academic affairs to promote collaboration between departments.
Together, the core team and collaborating departments developed a plan based on trainings and coaching the college had received through PACCE.
“We began to fundamentally change a program that was least enrolled on our campus but one that was also unique for adult learners,” Dan said. The Individual Studies A.O.S. certificate is designed to provide short-term training for adult learners, based on in-demand careers within the region. The program includes on-the-job training and individualized instruction based on the experience level of students.
With support from ideas42, FMCC took a behavioral science approach to target potential adult students to enroll in the program. The college also updated its marketing, recruitment efforts, and business partnerships. Since the work began, FMCC has more than quadrupled the amount of students enrolled in the certificate program as well as the amount of partnerships with local businesses.
A community partner
“Our core group was tasked with shifting how we work with our community,” Dan said. They engaged with partners and stakeholders to communicate what the college offered, but they also adapted the college offering’s based on what they learned about the community’s needs.
As an example, when the college struck a new partnership with medical cannabis company Vireo Health, they built three certificate programs that led directly to a career with the company. This provided job opportunities to local adult learners while filling the company’s workforce needs as it expands.
Like many rural communities across the country, the two counties that FMCC serves have encountered hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The region experiences high levels of poverty but the local job market is changing rapidly. FMCC saw an opportunity to connect the high numbers of adult learners who had little to no education with the growing number of short-term training opportunities that lead directly to good paying jobs.
“This is why the work we have completed within PACCE has been so helpful,” Dan said. FMCC is “beginning to bridge the gap and directly transition our community into a better educated workforce.”
Bringing transformation to scale
Based on the success that adult learner programs have already experienced through this work, FMCC now plans to scale some of these programs across the institution. “This PACCE initiative has really set the stage for how our campus will operate as a whole moving forward,” Dan said.
With significant buy-in already in place throughout the institution, one of the most significant challenges that remains is funding—a challenge the college is tackling capably. Building on the success they have found through PACCE, FMCC has applied for further funding to support adult learners and received nearly $1 million in additional grants. This funding has supported curriculum changes, further partnership efforts, and expanded wraparound supports for students. “We were awarded the majority of these grants to improve how we work with adult learners in health careers, trades, and advanced manufacturing,” Dan said. He attributed the college’s work with PACCE as foundational for their process in seeking more funding opportunities.
“We built the grant to jumpstart this new initiative with the hopes it could be expanded to meet the growing needs of every program,” Dan added. “It has done just that.”
Dan mentioned ATD’s coaching team, support from ideas42 and rpkGROUP, and collaboration with other participating colleges as key benefits to the grant. “I was able to work on problem-solving our challenges with institutions from all over the country,” he said.
When asked what advice Dan and his team would give other institutions embarking on similar projects to support adult learners, they said “have your dream team ready.”
That “dream team” at FMCC has broken down institutional silos, created new community partnerships, and built new programs in service of one key goal: “to be a better community college for the community we serve.”
The PACCE initiative is designed to identify and scale promising strategies for increasing the enrollment and reenrollment of adult students — particularly Black and Latinx students — in high-quality credit and/or non-credit programs. To support this work, ATD and partner organizations provide technical assistance in behavioral design and sustainability of enrollment efforts
- Lumina Foundation
- Equal Measure
- Rockefeller Philanthropy Partner