Published on 2014/03/27

Removing Barriers to Success for Part-Time, Non-Traditional Students

AUDIO | Removing Barriers to Success for Part-Time, Non-Traditional Students
Part-time adult learners have a number of barriers that keep them from earning a degree, and institutions must be active in removing them for improved outcomes.

The following interview is with Bea González, dean of University College at Syracuse University. González is highly active in supporting non-traditional students and was elected to serve as the 2014-15 president of the University Professional and Continuing Education Association. González was recently quoted in an article discussing the importance of creating engaging and flexible approaches to working with non-traditional, part-time students. In this interview, she expands on those ideas and shares a few strategies institutions can put into place to better serve their non-traditional students.

1. What are the biggest barriers to graduation for part-time students?

The biggest barriers for part-time students are probably time and money, work and family commitments, child care issues, financial issues.

[Higher education] policies today are really designed for full-time students at the expense of the post-traditional part-time student, which really represents the majority of students in higher ed.

2. Once a part-time student takes an extended leave from his or her studies, how likely is that person to return to earn a degree?

Pretty likely, if you continue to stay in touch with them [and] if you continue to monitor their situation.

If you can remove the barriers … or they can outlive the barriers that force them to leave, getting them back is pretty easy because they really do want to get back.

3. What are a few strategies higher education institutions can put into place to retain their part-time students all the way to graduation?

The basics are: keep in touch with your students, continue the high touch or the long reach. Keep them aware of new options, [and] as I said, removing the barriers that force them to leave is critical.…

We have several strategies. We have a one-stop shop we’re hoping to move into the next level of service, into a concierge model where the student is at the center of all the work that we do. We are prepared to remove all barriers on behalf of students.

So what does that mean?

Re-entry processes or re-enrollment processes that are not traumatic or overburdened. Financial aid and scholarship opportunities that encourage students to come back. Helping students build a financial and academic plan that will get them through the next phase of their degree. Those are some of the immediate things that come to mind.

4. What kinds of changes can be made at the state or federal level to support the retention of part-time students?

Well, one of the strategies that’s very obvious that I didn’t mention, which is online courses. As we build online courses and online degree programs, it is important at that point that your institutional, state and federal policies support online students through financial aid policies. [It is also really important to] have really, really flexible transfer credit and prior learning assessment practices and policies. All of these things are tied back to federal aid policies. How you implement those opportunities for students and how is the support status; that is critical.

5. Do you see federal and state bodies moving toward creating those more flexible approaches?

Yes, we have a couple of really good examples right now. Immediately coming to mind is Western Governors University, as one set of states and organizations that are really working at providing the supports that students need around financial aid and credit for prior learning in a way that makes it extremely accommodating for adult students to return and values their life experience in the process. Southern New Hampshire University is another prime example.

6. Is there anything you’d like to add about the importance of creating engaging and flexible approaches to working with non-traditional, part-time students and helping them overcome barriers to graduation?

It’s important to really look to your students, and to respect the opinions of your staff and faculty because they work with the students on a regular basis. It’s important to ‘secret shop’ your organization to make sure you’re leading your own objectives; how you respond to a student who reaches out to your organization to come back to school.

For me, it’s a continuous process of improvement based on feedback from all of the players; the student, the staff, the faculty.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Consolidated Administration: The Key to Delivering a 60-Year Curriculum

Shift the status quo to achieve long-term success and viability for your university.

Read here


Key Takeaways

  • Institutions need to have adequate communications mechanisms in place to retain part-time adult students and support them to graduation.
  • Institutional leaders should implement ‘secret shopping’ processes to assess the level of service students receive.
  • It’s important for institutional, state and federal policies to understand and respond to the needs of part-time, non-traditional students who now make up the majority on campuses.

Readers Comments

Daniele Thomas 2014/03/27 at 10:02 am

Interesting to hear Gonzalez’ thoughts on part-time student retention. It’s so important that she says many students who stop out would return if there was an easy way to do so. Higher education administrators need to hear this and start acting on ways to improve the pathway to re-entry, through improvements to credit transfer, a streamlined application/registration process for re-entrants and enhanced financial aid.

Mary Y 2014/03/27 at 11:51 am

We’re a mid-sized community college and one initiative we’ve developed is having all of our students do an in-person exit interview, whether they’re graduating or stopping out early. I know many institutions prefer to send out online surveys to gauge feedback, but for us, the added effort and expense of an in-person interview is worth it.
Our students sit down with a trained advisor to go over options after graduation/early exit. It’s during this stage that some adult students will reveal the deeply personal challenges that have forced them to stop out. This is not only valuable feedback for us to help improve the experience of the next set of adult students, but to help even the individual discussing his/her challenges. Our advisor has the opportunity to offer encouragement and help the exiting student develop a personalized plan to return later. In one case, our advisor was able to prevent the student from dropping out entirely by showing how he could transfer credits already earned to another credential (diploma to certificate) so his hard-earned credits didn’t go to waste.

    Glenda Cullen 2014/03/27 at 2:18 pm

    What a heartwarming example of what a little personalized attention can yield. I agree with the view that institutions should be doing more to engage with part-time students at different points over the course of their education to identify issues and resolve them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *