Published on 2013/12/05

Improving the Relevancy and Accessibility of Higher Education

AUDIO | Improving the Relevancy and Accessibility of Higher Education
Higher education institutions must work with businesses to understand learning needs and to make it possible to learn without being restricted by the physical campus.
The following interview is with Jayson Boyers, vice-president of Champlain College and managing director of the college’s Division of Continuing Professional Studies. Boyers recently published an article on the Huffington Post sharing his perspective on the importance of increasing accessibility to postsecondary education for non-traditional students. In this interview, he expands on that idea, shares his thoughts on how institutions might achieve this goal and discusses some strategies higher education institutions must put into place to improve postsecondary education overall for adult students.

Click here to read key takeaways

1. What are the most significant accessibility hurdles adult students must navigate in higher education?

The first one is the whole framework for how education is delivered. When you are an adult, when you are in your career, when you have family obligations, when you have children — maybe you even have children getting up to college-age and you’re nervous about taking on debt — and adding to that you have to fit [education] into your schedule? Because the old model says that the best way, the most ideal way, to receive education is to go to a building and a geographic location.

Well, it becomes a challenge, and it’s a challenge that a lot of adults just feel is overwhelming.

If you can figure out a way … to deliver education to create that value, to get them to contribute, to engage peer learning and engaging learning from their subject matter or their professor in a very live, interactive way, then you have a framework where adults can actually engage in higher education.

If they have to go to a geographic location at a specific time and still meet the demands of their family and meet the demands of their workplace, you’re going to have a huge hurdle.

2. Do you think most higher education institutions are doing a good job of opening up access for adult and non-traditional students?

No. I hate to be so blunt about it, but what they’re trying to do is take a model that was really established hundreds of years ago and fit it into the modern world. Those who have delved into different models, what they say is, “Okay, well, we’ll have night courses.” Well, that’s still them having to be in a geographic location at a certain time. They say, “We will do self-modules where the adults can work through at their own pace.” That’s great, but you’re taking away peer learning. You’re taking away that engagement, which is such an important part of education. Instead of doing either-or, instead of trying to fit this into an old framework that’s hundreds of years old, where buildings were the central aspect of education, they should be figuring out how to best engage people, how to best deliver the education, so that all the most important aspects of learning and gaining knowledge and gaining competency are wrapped up into a very social engagement — but where they don’t have to be in a physical location.

Colleges who delve into online are trying to figure out how to reduce costs, and I would say that you’re not going to go reduce costs with online. What we should do is figure out the best way to deliver that education to meet the adult where they are, still give them a quality education, still respect academic rigor and still focus on student success. You can do that whether it’s in a building or in online, in a virtual setting, in an asynchronous setting.

I would even go so far as this: people sometimes think online is education-lite. It is not. You can hide at the back of the classroom; you can’t hide it online.

3. What kinds of strategies could institutions put into place to make accessibility for non-traditional students either a greater priority or a more successful outcome?

One of the biggest ways that higher education as an institution — private or public — one of the most important steps they can take is to create relationships … with the communities and the businesses in that community. For too often, higher education has echoed what happened in the business community and adults really want the skills to help improve the situation they’re currently in. They want to gain more income. …

If relationships aren’t formed with businesses, how can we integrate higher education in the business models that are going on? How can we develop education where the adults are, meet them where they are, even in their location? Get out of the model of having a student come on campus; there are a lot of opportunities for us to gain knowledge from working with the private sector … about the programs we should be developing, to gain knowledge about technology which is changing at a more rapid pace than it ever has.

These are beneficial relationships, not just for a business that can’t train their workforce, and create a community that really is attractive to new businesses to come in and invest. Education institutions can gain knowledge of what’s happening in real time, and even translate that back to the traditional 18 to 22-year-olds. …

We have to get out of this idea that we need to build more brick-and-mortar buildings on our campuses and leave the walls of the geographic campus and go out and become integrated with our community, not just echoing what business needs, but being right there beside them in helping strategically think how we can make our workforce, our community and our country more competitive.

4. Is there anything you’d like to add about the importance of increasing accessibility to postsecondary education for non-traditional and adult students and approaches that institutions might take to achieve this?

There are two things I’d like to sum it up with. The first is, we are not going to meet adult students in a changing workforce where workers need to gain new skills at various times throughout their career, we’re not going to meet those needs, by staying in a geographic location. We need to develop new ways to deliver the education — it needs to be social, it needs to be virtual and it needs to be off our campuses.

The second thing is, we need to break down the silos between higher education and the private sector. We all live in the communities we serve. We all are a part of this relationship web that can benefit the people living in our communities. We have to break down those silos. We cannot do this alone. Higher education cannot solve the problem of adults who need to gain those skills and businesses can’t solve those problems. But, together, if we break down the wall and we start working and integrating with each other, it would be amazing what we could do.

Talk about an economic boom; I’m really passionate about that.

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Key Takeaways

  • Higher education is currently reacting to changes in the economy and scrambling to create programs that meet needs, rather than working with employers to proactively understand those needs
  • By working with employers, institutions can create highly relevant programs that gets graduates jobs and helps grow regional economies
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Readers Comments

Ryan Loche 2013/12/05 at 9:51 am

I wouldn’t say the situation is as dire as the one Boyers paints, although there is certainly room for improvement at many institutions.

I would argue that most institutions have awoken to the fact that they need to have more proactive strategies of engaging non-traditional students, and that often times the strategy includes an online component. The reason people like Boyers are frustrated is that it’s taking institutions time to put this realization into practice and make the necessary programmatic and administrative changes. Here, I’m less inclined to fault institutions for their slowness. The reality is, online education is still very new, and we don’t truly know if the strategies we tout as “best practices” today will hold up down the road.

Institutions need to build an online infrastructure that will last, even if it means moving slowly to get it done.

C Demichelis 2013/12/06 at 8:29 am

Traditional higher education institutions could learn a thing or two from their private, for-profit counterparts. Many for-profits today have chosen to forego having a permanent physical campus, instead offering a mix of online courses and courses delivered in unused office spaces and other cheap rentals that lower overhead costs. As Boyers suggests, traditional institutions could look at such strategies to deliver education in the future. By being in various locations within the community, institutions might also be able to make better connections with local businesses

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