Published on 2013/08/21
Three Reasons Adults Should Seek out Community Colleges
Prospective adult students often look at universities as being their best option for postsecondary education, but colleges can provide a better education experience with more concrete outcomes.

Canadians have a university obsession and pay far too little attention to college opportunities. Research shows adults believe a university education is the best avenue to a great career. There is much to be said for this argument. A correctly chosen university degree can be an excellent choice for those looking to enter specific industries, but colleges rarely get the attention they deserve.

So, to get folks thinking, here are my top three reasons colleges should be given very serious consideration by prospective adult students:

1. Personal Attention

Colleges do an excellent job of meeting students where they are, both educationally and personally. They are generally smaller in size, with low student-faculty ratios and considerable internal flexibility. While colleges vary a great deal in their offerings, it is generally easy to shift courses and even programs. Students who enter intending to study business management can be quickly re-directed to remedial programs, college transfer or technical offerings as the situation warrants. The ability of the colleges to respond to the achievements, personality, abilities and challenges of the individual student is a real plus.

2. Connection with the Labor Market

Colleges generally have their finger on the pulse of the local economies in which they serve and, as a consequence, have good track records for connecting students with jobs. Local governments and regional businesses speak routinely to the college administration and vice versa. As a result, there is sensitivity to local and regional job opportunities. College students often pick up valuable leads through informal campus networks, and businesses in real need of workers will reach out aggressively to students in the right programs. While there are no guarantees, the technical, professional and administrative programs offered by colleges are often praised for creating “career ready” graduates.

3. Understanding of Adult Student Needs

Colleges are exceptional launching pads for adult learners. People who have been away from school for several years often misjudge the challenges associated with re-starting their academic careers. Study habits have fallen away, writing and research skills have atrophied, and some of the background material has become dated or, even more likely, has disappeared from memory. College advisors are generally very skilled at placing students at the right level and in the right programs. While adult learners bring experience, perspective and motivation to their postsecondary studies, the transition back into the world of learning can be jarring, to say the least.  Colleges assume they will have a broad spectrum of students in their classes and programs. Faculty are used to dealing with all sorts of students — recent high school graduates and grandparents, those returning for upgrading and others shifting, in trauma, from lost jobs to new opportunities. For adult learners, seeking to find their feet academically and looking to set the foundations for a new career, colleges are the best postsecondary alternative.

Here, finally, is the kicker. Canada has one of the world’s best systems of community-based colleges. The institutions are recognized internationally for their ability to meet the needs of both students and the local economy. Taken collectively, they are a diverse, creative and innovative set of institutions, ranging from such high-tech centers as Conestoga College to Yukon College, which does a brilliant job of meeting local needs while connecting with global partners in Indigenous and international education. Canadian students would do very well to take a close look at the opportunities, often available within their community, provided by our impressive and regionally-engaged colleges.

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Readers Comments

Yvonne Laperriere 2013/08/21 at 9:57 am

I think this is more of a concern for traditional-age students than adult students. School guidance counselors need to present college as a legitimate option for students — more than they are now.

For adults, I don’t think they require the same access to blue-collar work. 18-22 year olds need to understand that there’s nothing “lesser” about it.

    Stephen Gotti 2013/08/21 at 10:06 am

    I would think that wherever the jobs are available, that’s the direction adult degree seekers should go in.

    I don’t know about Canada specifically, but it seems to me that the cultural stereotyping of colleges as “lesser” than universities transcends high school. Adults should also be comfortable enrolling in college — it’s better for them as this article points out.

Vera Matthews 2013/08/21 at 11:02 pm

Where do adults get the perception that a university degree is the best pathway to a fulfilling career? This is an idea ingrained in students from the time they’re in high school. I remember, in high school, we weren’t encouraged to enroll in community colleges or enter the trades. I don’t know if counsellors and high school teachers have an inherent bias against these types of programs, seeing as they’re all advanced degree holders, but there is virtually no exposure to college as a pathway at the high school level. More outreach needs to be done in the K-12 system, so that college becomes a more viable option for traditional-aged students as well as adult students.

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