Critical Changes Needed to Transform the Student Experience for Non-Traditional LearnersDarlene Brown | Budget Manager, Prince George’s Community College
There are myriad challenges that millions of students are confronted with when attempting to pursue higher education to ensure their future success. This is something I have become very aware of having worked closely with students over the past decade. Below is a list of what I believe are the most important changes that colleges need to make in order to attract and engage the non-traditional student.
Improved Use of Technology
Technology presents an ever changing tapestry that higher academic institutions must fully embrace and understand in order to meet the needs of the non-traditional student. Today, the higher education student is not exclusively an 18-year-old fresh out of high school. There are single moms and single dads, military personnel, professionals working full time in the corporate sector and, of course, retired individuals pursuing the degrees they have always desired and the credentials they need.
Technology is the one vehicle that allows each of the above non-traditional students to pursue higher education without having to be in the classroom. Technology provides the convenience and flexibility needed to meet the ever changing day-to-day structures for these students because it allows them the opportunity to pursue their education on a schedule that works for their life. Online classes have now become the norm for the working single mom or the working professional who simply doesn’t have the time or energy to travel to and from a classroom in order to obtain their degree. It allows them to complete course work independent of a traditional classroom structure, while still providing the support needed to ensure their success.
While technical tools and systems can present huge costs both to implement and maintain, they are necessary factors when seeking to serve the non-traditional students.
Wider Array of Credentials and Programming
Certificate programs are another area that higher education institutions must focus on improving and expanding. The non-traditional student does not always seek a full degree for a multitude of reasons. For example, non-traditional students can pursue certificates focused on specific industries that provide them the training necessary to obtain skilled and viable long-term employment—they don’t necessarily need an undergraduate or master’s degree to accomplish this. These programs typically fall under the workforce and continuing education department. With a continuously challenged economy and fluctuating employment statistics, colleges should offer a plethora of diverse certificate programs as a creative way to meet the needs of a diverse and non-traditional student population.
The rising cost of education should encourage college to consider offering program curricula and certificate programs that will prepare individuals for the world of entrepreneurship. Starting and operating your own company is one way that the college culture can support and encourage individuals to pursue careers that they feel passionately about, with the end goal of owning their own business. This also allows the non-traditional student to understand the capacity of becoming an employer versus the existing culture of simply becoming a career employee.
More Available Services for Students
Some courses are simply unable to be put online, either because of the specific subject matter and demands of the program or because the institution doesn’t have the resources available to invest in high-quality online programming. These institutions should consider providing support services such as childcare for parents who must take a course to complete a degree that is only offered on campus. While there are many aspects of such a move that must be researched and analyzed, this could be another way to support the non-traditional student.
Lower Costs and Employment Support
Cost is always a concern for any student. Colleges must do everything possible to ensure that the cost of education is affordable. This will encourage students to attend and complete degree programs. Career counseling and assistance is also another venue to review. As college graduates are consistently challenged with obtaining employment, so colleges must do everything to collaborate with the private and government sector to facilitate and assist students with becoming gainfully employed upon the completion of a degree or certificate program.