Published on 2015/09/22

Attracting and Retaining Adults: Adult Learners Need Family- and Work-Friendly Program Schedules

The EvoLLLution | Attracting and Retaining Adults: Adult Learners Need Family- and Work-Friendly Program Schedules
Scheduling programs that take into account the incredibly busy lives of adult students—who must juggle family and work responsibilities while enrolled—will have a positive impact on an institution’s ability to attract and retain non-traditional learners.

Busy adult learners are not the only people experiencing their education. Employers and family members of these students support—and are affected by—adults going back to school. College and university programs that recognize the need to respect the scheduling constraints of their learners will create programs with:

  1. Established dates and times for all classes so they can plan with family and employers;
  2. Breaks during major holidays to respect personal and family time; and
  3. Guaranteed class offerings and teach-outs if the program is discontinued or enrollment is lower than expected.

Set Schedules

Although busy adult learners prefer accelerated schedules so they may complete their degrees and apply what they have learned to the job market, they also have commitments when they are in school that require them to choose programs with schedules that allow them to meet the obligations of their family and work commitments. Programs are more successful at recruiting and retaining students when they pre-set the dates and times in which learners will have to meet in person or online, for the duration of the program. As well, clearly set course and term start and end dates throughout the program allow busy adults to make arrangements with family members and employers for the duration of a program. While quality programs will require a great deal of time and a commitment from adult learners, the more successfully they can plan their study and their off time, the more likely they will select and succeed in their degree programs.

Time Off When It Counts

Accelerated higher education programs do not allow for large segments of time-off for learners; after all, busy adult students want to complete their degrees as quickly as possible. However, busy adult learners also tend to have family commitments, and these commitments tend to occur during predictable times. As program developers design program schedules, avoiding class dates on or around major holidays is a must. Additionally, several holidays are more likely to draw adult learners away from schoolwork—or cause family strife—than others. When program designers avoid classes on family-centric holidays like Halloween, Mother’s and Father’s Day weekends, the week of Thanksgiving, Labor Day Weekend, Memorial Day weekend, other typically long weekends, and other major family-centered holidays, learners are more likely to remain enrolled and less likely to request late submission exceptions for assignments or incomplete grades for classes. Additionally, when their family time is contemplated in advance, adult learners feel valued and respected, and this can go a long way in recruiting these highly sought after students in the competitive higher education market of the 21st century.

Guaranteed Classes

Lastly, programs that guarantee their program classes will not be canceled, and learners will have the opportunity to graduate on time—if they are successful in their courses—strongly appeal to pragmatic adult learners. Adult students realize that they will be juggling busy life schedules with school if they return to college. To that end, they want assurances that they can complete the program relatively quickly, they will be able to meet the class meeting expectations, schedules will be clear and pre-set, and they want to be certain that canceled classes will not impede their success. Most mature learners attended college in a traditional context when they were young adults. These former coeds recall the frustrations of classes being canceled and the need to scramble to fill the gaps, oftentimes with less desirable courses. Assurances that classes will not be cancelled without immediate and automatic replacements, and on-time graduation will be possible, are a must.

If You Build a Family- and Work-Centered Schedule, They Will Come …

The higher education landscape today is highly competitive. Many quality options exist for busy adult learners who wish to complete degrees to advance in their careers and improve their quality of life. After affordability, busy adult learners want to know that program courses will be scheduled in such a way that they can meet family and work commitments as well as school commitments.

The most successful programs for mature adult students go to great lengths to ensure: schedules are pre-set so learners can plan school around life events in advance; time-off during major and family-centered holidays will be offered; and they seek to ensure that all needed classes in a program will be available to all learners so on-time graduation is a reality for students who successfully complete their courses.

As program developers set out to attract discerning adult learner populations, these scheduling concerns should be a top priority for colleges and universities seeking to attract quality, adult learners and remain competitive in the contemporary higher education market.

This is the fifth installment of an ongoing series by Jennifer Kalfsbeek breaking down the top 10 features of programs designed for busy adult students.

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Readers Comments

Sandra Lawrence 2015/09/22 at 10:06 am

This sounds like we basically need to build a whole new university for adult learners, which maybe is a good thing considering how strong growth in this particular demographic is.

Jerry Fields 2015/09/22 at 2:52 pm

I think maybe this group has just gotten so large that more universities will choose to focus on adult learners instead of more traditional-age students. The majority of postsecondary institutions are still focused on the 18-year-old students, so perhaps this is what we need.

Alex Barnett 2015/09/22 at 3:39 pm

I don’t fully understand the idea behind the cost structure. How does tuition capitalize on competitive admissions and small class sizes? Hopefully future parts of this series will get into it in more detail.

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