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Experience as Credit: The Significance of Student Stories in Post-Traditional Enrollment

The EvoLLLution | Experience as Credit: The Significance of Student Stories in Post-Traditional Enrollment
Success in admissions requires more than just a focus on the numbers. admissions professionals must pay at least equal attention to the human element of each prospective student as well.

Stories are meaningful; they have the potential to encourage and inspire. The stories we tell shape our character and expose our histories. And in the world of higher education enrollment, the stories prospective adult students share can benefit both the learner and the university.

Stories as Assets for Students

For many adult students who are seeking to continue their education, time and money are regularly the key factors that influence educational choices. Often, non-traditional students choose a program solely because it can provide a fast track to graduation and not cost an arm and a leg. Additionally, non-traditional learners must also strike a balance between their current career responsibilities and strenuous academic research. Therefore, non-traditional students are continually looking for ways to lower tuition costs and shorten the time it will take to complete a degree so that they can advance themselves personally and professionally. Though, few students realize that their life story can save thousands of dollars and months of study time.

In many higher education organizational models, enrollment counselors are the first institutional employees to converse with non-traditional learners and are therefore in a unique position to discover an adult’s academic and professional background. Enrollment managers must train counseling teams to prompt prospective students to generously share their personal biographies. According to Irene Karpiak, “As students unveil their life stories they allow us access to their past, a past that matters as to their current life as learners.”[1]

The stories that the students tell provide enrollment counselors with valuable information about previous formal and non-formal learning experiences. As stories are unveiled, enrollment counselors have opportunities to recognize when a student may be able to apply their skills and knowledge to enter a Prior Learning Assessment program or pass a Competency Based Exam. For example, an individual who has served as a network administrator for twenty years may not need to take an “Introduction to Networks” course as they could probably teach that class themselves. In this case, a Prior Learning Assessment evaluation would be an outstanding way for the student to prove that their existing aptitudes match the course requirements. As a result, the student would not need to formally take the introductory course to complete an Information Technology degree.

Furthermore, by asking the right questions, enrollment counselors can learn whether a prospective student has earned certificates, licenses, or attended training sessions that could be translated into credits through internal or third-party evaluation. An expressive and thoughtful conversation between the student and the enrollment counselor has the potential to completely alter a student’s degree plan in a beneficial way. And in many cases, an older adult student will choose to attend an institution that has programs that can bring them closer to graduation by accepting life experience as credit.

Listen, Engage, and Stand Out

                A non-traditional student’s educational experience begins not when they first participate in class, but when they first interact with a higher learning institution. The very first conversation a prospective learner has with an institutional representative can influence their decision to matriculate and continue their education. The initial discourse matters tremendously. In his article “Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice” Jack Mezirow explores the importance of meaningful dialog in adult learning:

Effective discourse depends on how well the educator can create a situation in which those participating have full information; are free from coercion; have equal opportunity to assume the various roles of discourse (to advance beliefs, challenge, defend, explain, assess evidence, and judge arguments); become critically reflective of assumptions; are empathic and open to other perspectives; are willing to listen and to search for common ground or a synthesis of different points of view; and can make a tentative best judgment to guide action. These ideal conditions of discourse are also ideal conditions of adult learning and of education.[2]

Enrollment counselors must therefore engage prospective students in exploratory, balanced, and reflective conversations that allow students to divulge their self-driven motivation, academic interest, and professional background. Coordinated and focused discourses provide the prospective adult student with a sense of self-worth, confidence and assurance. And this is an excellent way for an institution to differentiate itself among its competitors. In the exceedingly competitive market of non-traditional higher education, the acknowledgement that student stories are exceptionally significant can have the potential to increase enrollment numbers, raise the reputation of the institution, and give back to adult learners who are seeking to advance themselves.

While many higher learning enrollment departments focus on numbers, metrics and outcomes, it is easy to overlook the significance of the human element of the admissions process. Students are people with rich histories and complex lives and the stories that they share are valuable and should not be dismissed—they should be prioritized. The admissions department that listens, provides feedback and accommodates experience will have the competitive edge and, more importantly, the student’s trust.

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[1] Karpiak, I. E. (2010), Summoning the past: Autobiography as a “movement toward possibility”. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2010: 13–24. doi: 10.1002/ace.368

[2] Mezirow, J. (1997), Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 1997: 5–12. doi: 10.1002/ace.7401