Published on 2013/03/14

Adults in Higher Education: A Changing Role

Adults in Higher Education: A Changing Role
In 10 years’ time, adult students will be more accepted on postsecondary campuses and will have a greater role in shaping and participating in institutional culture and campus life.

Adult postsecondary students continue to increase in numbers across both for-profit and non-profit institutions. There are many reasons for these changes, such as the economy, competitive job markets and family stability. These factors have left very few opportunities for individuals to succeed in the job market without a degree. Adult postsecondary students need to be competitive at work and in educational institutions. Likewise, the roles of adult postsecondary students will change and expand alongside their projected enrollment growth over the next decade.

Ten years ago, an associate’s degree would have landed you a job that paid well enough for you to be comfortable. However, with the increase in the number of high school graduates directly entering the workforce, employers are demanding better-educated employees. This drives the postsecondary adult learner to obtain higher education to stand out. Today, there are still many struggles in obtaining a four-year degree or higher. As time passes by, a bachelor’s degree may not be enough to obtain a job that will support a family. There are many professions now looking for people with a master’s degree or a Ph.D. This challenges the adult student even more.

Eastern Illinois University master’s degree program, which includes an assistantship, prefers a 3.5 GPA and above and at least a 3.0 in the major’s class requirements in order for a student to be considered competitive for the assistantship program. They also look at the clubs and organizations that each applicant participates in and the levels of leadership that are held. There are also certain scholarships having similar requirements, some of which can only be obtained if the student is participating within certain organizations and holds specific titles. In this area, adult students may have an advantage. Wisdom and experience qualify the adult learner more so than traditional students when obtaining certain positions in various organizations.

Adult learners bring value to their classrooms. They raise questions on more of a peer level with instructors. They provide an education of experience to younger students and professors within the institution. Adult students add diversity to the classroom, not only in cultural aspects, but in terms of age group. This unique mixture allows all to learn from each other and leads to greater discussions and ideas produced by students.

There is an increasing demand for online learning, especially by adult students. Online classes will be in more demand over the next decade. Online class makes life simpler for an adult student trying to obtain a degree. At the same time, it may take away the ability to be involved in activities on campus, unless the student lives close to the university he or she attends. Online class, although convenient, does not give you hands-on experience, with peer support, like the classroom does.

The constant changes in the economy and needs of the job market place a demand on people to obtain higher education. Institutions will be required to conform to a larger number of adult learners and get them ready for the changes within society. There are going to be new ideals produced due to the diversity of the classroom environment. Over the next decade, adult postsecondary students need to play more roles on campus by being more active in organizations and helping to change institutions to better conform to the needs of the adult student.

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Readers Comments

Tyrese Banner 2013/03/14 at 10:02 am

It can be challenging to be an adult student, balancing the various demands of work, school and family life. I’ve enjoyed reading Crystal Trotter’s articles so far, and I hope she continues to write and put a spotlight on the issues facing nontraditional students. We need more voices like hers.

    Crystal Trotter 2013/03/22 at 11:33 am

    It is wonderful to hear you enjoy reading my articles. This is a topic I am very passionate about. It is challenging to be an adult student. Thank you. I will write as many articles as the editor will allow! Thank you again!

Henry Smalling 2013/03/14 at 3:21 pm

I am of the same opinion as this author that the future is bright for adult students. It will certainly become more important, moving forward, that these nontraditional students take a more active role on campus to make their presence felt and, in a sense, be better able to advocate for their unique needs.

Peg Walton 2013/03/18 at 5:07 pm

It may surprise you to learn that only about 15 percent of current undergraduates fall into the “traditional” category according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Traditional=attend four year college and live on campus, 18-23. 30 percent of undergraduates enrolled at public four-year regional colleges and universities are over 24. Nearly a quarter of post secondary students in US are parents, 43 percent of undergraduates attend community colleges.
The adult student is far closer than 10 years from acceptance, they are here…now. And, innovative education providers are responding to their unique needs.

    Crystal Trotter 2013/03/22 at 11:44 am

    Ms. Walton,
    I am not surprised there is a low percentage of “traditional” students. I am more concerned with the aspects of “non-traditional” students and their roles on campus. Adult students and Universities are working together to suit the needs of all students. However, being involved on campus is fading fast for both classifications of students. For example, Eastern does not have enough students participating in elections on campus to fill all the seats in the Senate. No matter the statics the fact is students are less involved and this assures a large disadvantage in the life after graduation. Who will get the jobs and who will not?

Bryan 2015/11/12 at 4:12 pm

I am a nontraditional attending a big ten university. This university is set up for molding kids and as andult, I am often in situations where the students, the staff, or myself are uncomfortable because of the disparities. I am nearly a wrench in their works. Instructors like convenient students, not necessarily engaged studnets. They make it quite clear often that you are in their system and they are in control, your learning is besides the point. Dragging an education out of my school is painful, and I do it in classrooms of not only disengaged students, but also disengaged staff. All for information I could most likely look up on Wikipedia.

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