The Graduate! Network Policy Recommendations for 2017

In Late 2016 and early 2017 Graduate! Network program directors from across the country, with the leadership of Dr. Robert Johnson of Education Matters in Southern Indiana, jointly identified barriers faced by adult learners and our colleagues who support them in going back to and through college. The result is the Graduate! Network Policy Agenda. Please keep in mind that the Graduate! Network Policy Agenda is designed to be a living document reflecting the current needs of our constituents, and with your guidance, will change and improve over time. You are welcome and encouraged to promote the Graduate! Network Policy Agenda with policy-makers, advisory boards and other you deem appropriate, and please do reference the collective authorship of Network directors.


1.      Provide Title IV financial aid for Assessment of Prior Learning (PLA)

Currently, Title IV does not pay costs associated with assessment of prior learning.   Assessment of prior learning is critical to our strategies for awarding credit to adult learners who can demonstrate mastery of competencies.  We believe that students should be able to use Title IV and other financial aid to pay tuition and other costs for assessment of prior learning.

2.      Release transcripts if the credit is paid even if fees or tuition is owed from previous enrollment.

Currently many higher education institutions withhold transcripts for credits that students have earned and paid for if students owe other fees or tuition.  This is especially a barrier to the progress of adult students.  Institutions should not withhold transcripts as an incentive to recover tuition or other unpaid fees.

3.      Simplify the FAFSA Form

The Department of Education has made good progress toward simplifying and implementing strategies for making the FAFSA form more accessible.  We support policies for simplifying the FAFSA process.

4.      Allow use of Pell awards throughout the academic year and increase lifetime eligibility beyond 12 semesters.

DOE should continue to implement initiatives that increase access to and flexibility of Pell Grants.  These include allowing Title IV funding for students taking courses throughout the year, and credit-earning experiences and courses that are not semester-based.  The lifetime eligibility for use of Pell grants should be extended beyond the current limit of 12 semesters, in recognition that many nontraditional students enroll part-time for longer periods.

5.      Increase access to financial resources such as scholarships, employer tuition assistance programs, and other supplementary aid beyond tuition, etc.

Adults with some college and no degree overwhelmingly cite financial need as the most important reason for stopping out of college and the most important barrier to returning.  Returning students are often low-income.  It is imperative for Federal, state, local, and community funders to increase adult access to financial aid, targeted grants and scholarships, and other forms of support.  We especially point to two needs.

a.      Adult, returning students often need access to supplementary aid (barrier busting resources), beyond tuition, for such needs as childcare, transportation, and short-term emergencies.

b.      It is important to remove age restrictions that currently exclude adult students from many financial aid programs in many states.

Delivery of learning and award of credit

6.      Implement reliable statewide policies that accommodate the award of degrees via reverse transfer

Many states have policies that allow institutions to award earned degrees by reverse transfer.  Reverse transfer is a practice that creates the opportunity for a student enrolled in a baccalaureate institutions to earn an associate’s degree if the credit earned is compliant with credits required for a degree.  Currently, practices for award degree by reverse transfer are not consistent or reliably implemented across institutions in all states.  Barriers to reverse transfer are complicated and often influenced by other policies such as performance-based funding.  We support a consistent and expansive policy for the award of earned degrees by reverse transfer implemented statewide in every state.

7.      Support development and delivery of high–quality competence-based education

Competency-based Education (CBE) allows adult students to accelerate or work at an individual pace demonstrating mastery of competencies as an alternative to traditional semesters and accumulating credit hours.  We support policies that enable the development of high-quality competency-based programming, and we seek to partner with associations, institutions and agencies in support of excellent competency-based learning practices nationwide.

8.      Provide credit portability

Credit portability is critical to adults, who are more likely to relocate during their studies or to enroll at multiple institutions simultaneously or sequentially. We advocate for a national policy that allows people to port credits as seamlessly as possibly between institutions, across academic sectors, and from state to state. We especially encourage policies that reduce barriers to credit transfer between community-colleges and four-year institutions, as well as policies to support full, ongoing portability of credits for prior learning and other experiential credits.

Learn more about the Graduate! Network here