Motlow State Adult Pathway Approach Gains National Attention

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Motlow State is providing innovative models for addressing the needs of adult students, according to a recent report by the Community College Research Center (CCRC).

The CCRC cited Motlow in a January 2021 report, How Guided Pathways Reforms Can Improve Support for Adult Students: Lessons from Three Tennessee Community Colleges, for implementing reforms to support different needs within the adult student population and overlapping needs shared by adult and traditional-age students.

Along with Tennessee Community Colleges institutions Nashville State and Pellissippi State, Motlow was recognized for its:

  • Universal policies and services critical in promoting success for all students, which are embedded in guided pathways reforms (e.g., mandatory college onboarding activities, career and program exploration, advising).
  • Targeted supports recognizing the challenges and opportunities of adult learners (e.g., flexible scheduling, designated point of contact for adult students, family-friendly spaces, and events).
  • Personalized supports tailored to the needs of adults as individuals (e.g., mentoring and coaching, intake surveys to identify students' needs and interests).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2020), 21% of full-time students and 39% of part-time students at community colleges are aged 25 and older. However, adult students are less likely than traditional-age students to obtain a credential, as they often face several barriers to college success.

The report, compiled by Serena Klempin and Hana Lahr of the Columbia University Teachers College in New York, was preceded by visits to Motlow's Moore County and Smyrna campuses.

Drawing on interviews conducted with faculty, student support staff, and administrative staff and on focus groups conducted with adult students at all three institutions that have instituted guided pathways reforms, the following questions were addressed:

  • What academic and non-academic challenges do adult students face in community college?
  • In what ways do faculty, advisors, and other student services staff approach student support differently for adult students as compared to traditional-age students?
  • How can community colleges design advising and other student services to best support adult students at each stage of selecting, planning, and staying on an educational and career pathway?

The study points out, "As part of the onboarding process at Motlow State, each student is guided in the use of DegreeWorks, a web-based education planning and advising tool, to create an educational plan leading to graduation that is individualized to each student's situation."

CCRC noted Motlow's multi-generational approach for high school recruiting events, targeting both high school students and their parents. As part of this strategy, recruiters discuss the importance of education at all stages of life. Also, Motlow holds information nights specifically for adults who are considering enrollment in college. After learning that what adults most wanted was the chance to speak with someone one-on-one, the College changed the format of its adult information nights from a one-hour presentation to a 20-minute presentation followed by 40 minutes for individual conversations.

Finally, the report highlights, "In preparation for the launch of the Tennessee Reconnect grant, Motlow created a new role for a Director of Adult Initiatives. The director conducts outreach to recruit adult students, guides them through the admissions and financial aid processes, and serves as a liaison to help adult students navigate any other challenges they may encounter."

"My role is to be a one-stop shop for adults who want to pursue a degree at Motlow," said Allison Barton, director of adult initiatives. "I work as the liaison to remove barriers for the processes of admission, enrollment, financial aid and other critical areas to ensure a seamless transition for adults into higher education."

For further information about Motlow's adult student programs, visit Motlow online at, or contact Allison Barton, Director of Adult Initiatives, at or 615-220-7826.

Tennessee's Community Colleges is a system of 13 colleges offering a high-quality, affordable, convenient, and personal education to prepare students to achieve their educational and career goals in two years or less. The system offers associate degree and certificate programs, workforce development programs, and transfer pathways to four-year degrees. For more information, please visit us online at or visit Motlow at

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