Published on 2013/04/23

Increasing Concern about Access to Higher Education and Matriculation: Obstacles, Frustrations and Strategies

Increasing Concern about Access to Higher Education and Matriculation: Obstacles, Frustrations and Strategies
As more adults return to the classroom, a number of steps need to be taken by institutions to ensure their adult students don’t feel left out or left behind.

Receiving a college education, developing one’s competencies and continuing lifelong learning is consistently met with fear as the cost of education continues to rise. Educational institutions are combating these high costs with distance education. In a study, 69.1 percent of chief learning officers indicated that online learning is very important to their long term strategies (Allen & Seaman, 2013). The number of learners taking at least one online course is increasing; on the other hand, face-to-face learning in higher education has slowed for the first time in 10 years (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Daniel de Vise, of the Washington Post, cites the number of enrolled non-traditional students as 40 percent (2011, para. 1). How will faculty successfully facilitate this intergenerational mixture of learners: matured (x-1944), baby boomer (1945-1964), generation X (1965-1978) and generation Y (1979-1995) (Burton, 2007)?

Generational Concerns:

Today’s adult learners are returning to school after raising children, retiring from a first career or other reasons. Among adult learners, we have different groups of non-traditional students (e.g. military, veterans, individuals taking care of ill parents and relatives and those parenting others). Learning spaces are filled with learners from numerous generations, as mentioned above. These learners have had various life experiences, which affect the way they learn. Faculty members are challenged to engage all of these generations to make teaching and learning relevant to them. Institutions are challenged with engaging these learners and maintaining their enrollment. Here, institutions have an opportunity to review the combination of adult generational enrollment patterns along with their different matriculation patterns. Next, a retention plan needs to be devised. This plan cannot be a one-plan-meets-all-of-the-generations’-needs program.

Learning Style Issues:

Another way to review educational concerns is through learning styles as opposed to generational concerns. Facilitators need to understand the different learning styles of the participants in their classes with the purpose of effectively conveying content. Keep in mind that even though several learners may have the same learning styles, they may not have the same knowledge base. Here, we have another gap to review. Facilitators need to apply a variation of instructing, learning and assessments to augment novel knowledge expansion. At this juncture, faculty need support from their administrations. According to the 2009 Sloan report, “With the single exception of support for technology, faculty view all aspects of support as lacking, especially in regard to the incentives provided by their institution” (p. 40). Elasticity and adaptability are vital in maintaining learners’ success and retention rates.

Technology Apprehensions:

Technology is increasing the opportunity to learn. A key challenge for the older learner may be anxiety towards technology; on the other hand, the younger student may be facing a lack of experience even though his or her understanding of technology is advanced. Technology offers a stage for distance learning discussions. Conversely, for adult learners to achieve the full benefit of online learning, they must be engaged in course work and activities connecting their learning inclinations. In addition, stimulating work and activities need to be matched with learners’ experiences. The continued infiltration of technological education tools brings about the need for faculty member competencies in educational technologies. The level at which technology is embraced in educational institutions is wide-ranging. Faculty must be prepared to learn and understand technology in order to effectively use it to engage learners.

The Findings:

Distance education programs support traditional and non-traditional students, and also assist institutions in their return on investments. To deliver the best results, facilitators need to (a) understand the characteristics of all learners and (b) be prepared to tailor information to meet the needs of these diverse learners, as well as (c) be prepared to deliver some immediate and direct feedback. In classes today, we have those who surf and scan, as well as those who still read and absorb information. We have learners who are hurried — they know what they want — and those who require more time. Faculty must be prepared for all of these situations to help increase institutional retention rates.

Diverse teaching methods for the different generations within a class are not currently utilized to their maximum potential. Here lies a gap between individual motivations and barriers to learning, where facilitators need to comprehend learners and the immediate settings in which the learners are performing. When facilitators cannot understand how to engage learners and understand their socio-environments, problems occur, and student retention wanes. According to Burton, “from the CEO to line employees, there must be the understanding of the significance of leadership, change, and diversity within the different organizations” (Burton, 2009, p. 3).

Administrators must lead in these efforts to support learners, and faculty who can develop online education best practices should be the change agents institutions with online programs are seeking. These programs need to be wrapped in quality metrics because what is not measured does not get addressed. According to Kim L. Brown-Jackson, product development manager at Management Concepts, “Quality is ours to own, maintain, and improve” (2013, p. 15). Once such a quality faculty development program is in place, with continuous process improvement measures, faculty will be able to better provide learners of the different generations with more engaged work and activities.

Access and successful matriculation will continue to be concerns

  1. If faculty does not sufficiently engage learners,
  2. If institutions do not implement contingency plans for enrollment and matriculation patterns of adult learners, and
  3. If adult learners are made to feel overwhelmed.

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References

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing Course: Ten year of tracking online education in the United States. Wellesley, MA: Babson College.

deVise, D. (2011, March). Guest post: Non-traditional students key to college completion goal. Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/college-inc/post/guest-post-non-traditional-students-key-to-college-completion-goal/2011/03/25/AFV8eIXB_blog.html

Burton, S.L., (2007). Diversity: Just what is it and why does it keep changing? (1ST ed.). USA: Lulu Publications.

Burton, S.L., (2007). Quality customer service: Rekindling the art of service to customers (2nd ed.). USA: Lulu Publications.

Seaman, J., (2009). Online learning as a strategic asset. Volume II: The paradox of faculty voices: Views and experiences with online learning. Washington, D.C.: Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. Retrieved from http://www.aplu.org/document.doc?id=1879

Who’s Who In Quality. (2013). Who’s who in quality. Quality Progress, (April), 15.

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Readers Comments

Vera Matthews 2013/04/23 at 11:26 am

This article really highlights the need for institutions to consider adopting technological solutions to address these challenges. Burton writes that facilitators need to understand their audience’s diverse needs, tailor material accordingly and deliver timely feedback. These efforts require time, expertise and administrative legwork that many institutions may not have the resources to employ. On the other hand, software that provides data aggregation and analytics functions might be able to do this work in minutes. Something for institutions to consider.

Simon Pickering 2013/04/24 at 9:51 am

We often forget that faculty are primarily researchers, and many have little to no professional training to help them become effective lecturers. Faculty arguably have a more important role in today’s classroom than ever before. Whereas, in the past, they might have been able to get by with simply presenting information/research, faculty are now increasingly called upon to be mentors/guides for students as they move through the curriculum. This means teaching techniques — including being able to cater to different learning styles — have taken on a newfound significance. Administrations need to do a better job of supporting faculty in this enhanced role.

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