Published on 2015/10/06

Critical Changes Needed to Transform the Student Experience for Non-Traditional Learners

The EvoLLLution | Critical Changes Needed to Transform the Student Experience for Non-Traditional Learners
Two-year colleges must work very hard to create a postsecondary environment and experience that speaks to the unique needs of today’s non-traditional student population.

There are myriad challenges that millions of students are confronted with when attempting to pursue higher education to ensure their future success. This is something I have become very aware of having worked closely with students over the past decade. Below is a list of what I believe are the most important changes that colleges need to make in order to attract and engage the non-traditional student.

Improved Use of Technology

Technology presents an ever changing tapestry that higher academic institutions must fully embrace and understand in order to meet the needs of the non-traditional student. Today, the higher education student is not exclusively an 18-year-old fresh out of high school. There are single moms and single dads, military personnel, professionals working full time in the corporate sector and, of course, retired individuals pursuing the degrees they have always desired and the credentials they need.

Technology is the one vehicle that allows each of the above non-traditional students to pursue higher education without having to be in the classroom. Technology provides the convenience and flexibility needed to meet the ever changing day-to-day structures for these students because it allows them the opportunity to pursue their education on a schedule that works for their life. Online classes have now become the norm for the working single mom or the working professional who simply doesn’t have the time or energy to travel to and from a classroom in order to obtain their degree. It allows them to complete course work independent of a traditional classroom structure, while still providing the support needed to ensure their success.

While technical tools and systems can present huge costs both to implement and maintain, they are necessary factors when seeking to serve the non-traditional students.

Wider Array of Credentials and Programming

Certificate programs are another area that higher education institutions must focus on improving and expanding. The non-traditional student does not always seek a full degree for a multitude of reasons. For example, non-traditional students can pursue certificates focused on specific industries that provide them the training necessary to obtain skilled and viable long-term employment—they don’t necessarily need an undergraduate or master’s degree to accomplish this. These programs typically fall under the workforce and continuing education department. With a continuously challenged economy and fluctuating employment statistics, colleges should offer a plethora of diverse certificate programs as a creative way to meet the needs of a diverse and non-traditional student population.

The rising cost of education should encourage college to consider offering program curricula and certificate programs that will prepare individuals for the world of entrepreneurship. Starting and operating your own company is one way that the college culture can support and encourage individuals to pursue careers that they feel passionately about, with the end goal of owning their own business. This also allows the non-traditional student to understand the capacity of becoming an employer versus the existing culture of simply becoming a career employee.

More Available Services for Students

Some courses are simply unable to be put online, either because of the specific subject matter and demands of the program or because the institution doesn’t have the resources available to invest in high-quality online programming. These institutions should consider providing support services such as childcare for parents who must take a course to complete a degree that is only offered on campus. While there are many aspects of such a move that must be researched and analyzed, this could be another way to support the non-traditional student.

Lower Costs and Employment Support

Cost is always a concern for any student. Colleges must do everything possible to ensure that the cost of education is affordable. This will encourage students to attend and complete degree programs. Career counseling and assistance is also another venue to review. As college graduates are consistently challenged with obtaining employment, so colleges must do everything to collaborate with the private and government sector to facilitate and assist students with becoming gainfully employed upon the completion of a degree or certificate program.

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Readers Comments

Eric Floyd 2015/10/06 at 1:52 pm

We do tend to focus heavily on degree completion, sometimes at the expense of certificates and course-by-course training. There are a lot of people who don’t want or need a full degree, or who are just one or two courses away from completing one started years ago. That’s a significant demographic and we need to value their needs as much as those looking for a whole degree.

    Darlene 2015/10/29 at 1:57 pm

    Hi Eric,

    I agree and believe that education is a multifaceted environment. One way will never serve everyone and therefore, higher education must look at many diverse ways to provide alternative education to a diverse ever changing country.

Valerie Walsh 2015/10/06 at 3:59 pm

Childcare should be a given in instances where students are required to come to campus. Ideally, we recognize that in addition to the non-traditional students who require specialty schedules or online learning, there are always going to be mature students mixed into the general students population and things like childcare are a necessary part of any campus.

    Darlene 2015/10/29 at 1:58 pm

    Hi Valerie,

    I completely agree and we must address the challenges of an ever challenged society in order to foster continued growth and development through higher academia.

jataya 2015/11/18 at 4:04 pm

Great article. I love how technology has evolved. I was able to complete my entire Master’s Degree online without stepping a foot on campus until graduation day. The use of technology and online classes made earning my degree while working a full time job and running a business possible. 🙂

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