Published on 2016/04/06

How Colleges Can Help Adult Learners Navigate Their College Programs And Balance Their Priorities

The EvoLLLution | How Colleges Can Help Adult Learners Navigate Their College Programs And Balance Their Priorities
At every level of the institution, but especially in the classroom, small changes can be made to ensure adult learners are able to balance their multiple priorities and succeed in achieving their postsecondary goals.

The number of adult learners on college campuses is growing each year according to recent data. As mentioned in my previous articles, adult learners bring many challenges to college (such as hectic schedules, family needs, money issues and full-time employment responsibilities). The focus of this article is to provide suggestions and strategies to higher education leaders as they interact with and guide adult learners.

The issue of balance has been one of the most challenging issues facing adult learners for many years. Institutions are in a position to support students as they balance course selections and prioritize time commitments. In the past, the work factor did not play a significant role with adult learners. Traditional students were invested in a four- to five-course load, relaxation time and related study time. Nowadays, adult learners bring these basic factors in addition to an assortment of social and educational concerns. Institutions of higher education have the unique opportunity to help adult learners create and maintain a sense of balance in their hectic lives.

Within the infrastructure of many institutions, there are considerable numbers of offices and resources to aid and support adult learners. From the point of inquiry, the typical adult learner can solicit assistance from the admissions office to help with the procedures of entry paperwork and related financial assistance processes. Upon acceptance into a program, adult learners can utilize the skills and talents of the advising staff for course selection and the “balance” needed to achieve academic success. As a former dean, I always urged my students to balance the content of their course selections, i.e., a humanities course coupled with a math course. To further assist adult learners, the tutoring office is at their disposal. Tutors need to understand the non-traditional student persona, schedule demands, and collegial aspect of self-esteem. These various departments are designed to assist and facilitate the balance and growth of adult learners.

The faculty also play a critical role in the balance paradigm related to adult learners. As the new semester begins, the faculty can begin a dialogue with their adult learners and surmise their intentions and expectations. As the semester moves forward, the faculty can ascertain the strengths of their adult learners. On the whole, adult learners are usually seen as students who are punctual and driven to succeed. Their inquiries often stimulate traditional students to discuss the lesson more closely. Adult learners often bring a wealth of historical perspectives (especially the humanities classes) and their contributions can trigger vibrant discussions. Tapping into the past experiences of adult learners can lead the adult learners to raise their self-esteem and academic success levels.

One essential ingredient of the “balancing process” is the time factor regarding assignments and required course outcomes. In the context of structured tests and papers, it may be necessary for the faculty to be cognizant of the adult learners’ needs to adjust the due dates, on occasion. This adjustment is often temporary and does not diminish the zeal and drive of the adult learners in the classroom. Like all other non-traditional students, adult learners need to communicate particular needs and obstacles they face in their work/school lives. By allowing flexibility of due dates, the faculty can demonstrate sensitivity to certain issues very close to adult learners. Adjustments by the faculty interacting with adult learners can take the following shapes:

  • Extend the due dates for certain assignments
  • Require assignments to be sent via Dropbox
  • Suggest a tutoring session prior to submission of a paper
  • Permit the student to sit in another class (within the same subject) that the professor is teaching and is agreeable to the switch of time frames
  • Suggest a hybrid class for a specific student’s needs

Every day, students attempt to balance their hectic lives by incorporating strategies which will help them succeed. Oftentimes, their strategies are successful and sometimes, not too successful. When college students, such as adult learners, factors in the demands of family and work, the outcomes toward success are not without scrutiny and apprehension. Today’s colleges and universities can greatly impact the balance paradigm in favor of the adult learners.

By being sensitive to the adult learners’ needs and challenges, the leaders and faculty of today’s institutions can lend tremendous support and guidance to adult learners as they strive to balance their priorities in life.

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