National Center for Higher Education Management Systems

Adult Re-Entry Pipeline

State Policies and Data to Promote Student Success in the “Adult Re-Entry Pipeline”


A Project Supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) received support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2009 to study state policies that foster “adult re-entry pipeline” student progression and success. The adult re-entry pipeline consists of alternative pathways available for adults aged 22 and older to obtain postsecondary credentials. This population is comprised of three groups: those who never completed their high school degrees, those who began postsecondary study but did not finish, and those who graduated from high school but never enrolled in postsecondary study.

While much is known about policies – both state and federal – for traditional pathways to and through postsecondary education, there is little systematic knowledge about state policies to support adults as they pursue higher education. The purpose of the NCHEMS study of state policies regarding the adult re-entry pipeline was to collect and document these often fragmentary and lesser known efforts.

As part of this project, NCHEMS produced a number of resource papers and tools to help state policymakers increase adult student success in entering postsecondary education and completing degrees. They include:
Population and Policy Taxonomy. To provide a foundation for other resources, NCHEMS first developed a detailed description of the various groups comprising the adult population in need and the various ways in which these individuals participate in postsecondary education. The second dimension of the taxonomy consists of a classified list of state and federal policies and practices intended to improve attainment within each identified population segment. Crossing these three dimensions creates a detailed taxonomy, which can use used to structure policy discussion.
Fifty-State Policy Inventory. The policy taxonomy was used to design a fifty-state policy inventory. The resulting report presents a summary of state policies and practices focused on student success within the adult re-entry pipeline. This report includes an examination of the scope and definition of responsibility by function, fiscal and financial policies and practices, programmatic policies and practices, and policies and practices related to information dissemination and access.
State Profiles. Using NCHEMS’ data holdings (see, staff knowledge, and state survey results, NCHEMS staff produced statistical diagnostic reports on the adult re-entry pipeline for each of the fifty states. Each provides a succinct numerical portrait of the state’s adult population by subcomponent and how adults participate in postsecondary education.
Case Studies. NCHEMS staff also conducted more detailed case studies of three states that have been particularly attentive to the adult re-entry pipeline. The purpose of the case studies was to better understand the dynamics of policy development as well as factors affecting successful implementation of policies affecting postsecondary access and success among adults. The three states chosen were Connecticut, Ohio, and Oklahoma.
Together, these resources comprise a “toolkit” whose components can be used individually or in combination to diagnose problems and devise policy solutions.