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Postsecondary Institutions Go Off-Campus to Engage Adult Learners

If the student cannot come to the campus, the campus will come to the student.

This is the new approach for higher education institutions that serve large numbers of adult students who are often unable to study on-campus. Rather than leaving the student to choose between enrolling in a distance program and looking for a closer or more flexible college or university, institutions are making sure students have easy access to the learning opportunities and resources they need.

At Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), administrators recognized that an adult student’s busy life does not necessarily mean that they are uninterested in getting involved in service-learning programs.

“A lot of times people make a wrong assumption that at a campus with a lot of nontraditional students, that they don’t have an interest in community work,” Frank E. Ross, vice president for student affairs at NEIU, told Inside Higher Ed. “We found that isn’t the case.”

NEIU recently pinpointed the areas where their non-traditional and commuter students reside and set up community learning projects in their areas, allowing adults to have the same opportunities as traditional-aged students to connect their classroom learning with the real world. By doing this, NEIU is trying to promote more engagement between their institution and their students who live far from the main campus.

“The students, in most cases, can’t come to campus,” Ross told Inside Higher Ed. “We want students who are taking online courses to have the same experience as the students would if they were in a seated environment.”

In Nebraska, the Metropolitan Community College (MCC) launched MCCExpress last summer, a facility designed to offer adult education services in a single location, away from their campus in an area heavily-populated by adult students who cannot commute to their main campus. The data suggests that the satellite campus concept is a positive one for institutions looking to improve completion rates among adult students. While MCC had a retention rate of 42 percent among adult students in 2011, it spiked to 74 percent after opening MCCExpress.