Co-Curricular Participation Drives Adult Student ExcellenceStephen Cucchiara | Assistant Director of the Office of Student Activities, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Often unrealized by students and sometimes disregarded by contingents of those in academics, co-curricular opportunities are an impactful aspect of the collegiate experience. Higher education continues to shift to online learning modules and full-time online degree programs (automation) in order to meet the demand by students for an affordable degree via attainable measures and the importance of these co-curricular opportunities can be disregarded by university officials. For returning adult and non-traditional students, investing in the immediate future is important, but are these systems providing the greatest return on investment?
Co-curricular programming and activities can be defined as an extension of educational functions that support the broad mission of a university. By no means do these functions deviate or divert from the academic mission of an institution of higher learning. Rather, “they underpin the goal of teaching students to be responsible and fulfilled human beings with opportunities that develop character, critical thinking, social skills and talent.” The research has been conducted and data is available from elementary, secondary and postsecondary education, proving students who are involved in these programs have higher grade point averages and see greater success following the completion of their education. The majority of these studies have been conducted with a lens toward the traditional student but the benefits of these experiences ring true for non-traditional students as well. Therefore, to classify these programs as “extra-curricular” is inaccurate, as these programs are not “extra” but are more collaborative in nature.
Student Affairs and Success divisions at universities across the country pride their practice on expanding a student’s education beyond the confines of a classroom by introducing opportunities that help educate, creating a perfect partnership to increase a students’ educational experience. This, in turn, will provide students with a greater return on investment. For non-traditional students, active engagement, relatable opportunities centered on academic interests, and defined marketability of these programs and skills will pique their interest and provide the greatest return. The most beneficial opportunities are the following: Direct Impact Organizations, Campus Employment, and Extended Studies.
Direct Impact Organizations
Direct Impact Organizations (DIOs) are groups found within various areas of a college or university that have a profound and immediate impact for a student. Academic clubs and organizations are considered a DIO because of their direct interfacing with classroom education and external networking. For example, an honor society with an emphasis in business (there are close to ten of these organizations, but campuses may not have all of them) may host networking programs, academic conferences and career placement/advancement workshops.
For an adult student, engaging in any of these programs allows for students to practice the knowledge they acquire in the classroom, develop new skills, and further prepare themselves for actual professional exposure. Another popular DIO are university leadership certificate programs, as they expose students to theories and provide examples of practicing the leadership mechanism. Service learning projects can be one of the most beneficial, as they places a student within a community and allow them the opportunity to network and provide a service for a greater cause. It also expands the lens of service, depicting is as more than just providing physical labor.
In an age of rising tuition costs, an increased middle class size with fewer job opportunities and family incomes that are unable to make up the difference, students examine their potential higher education investment return based on practical measures. Campus employment is truthfully the most practical of them all.
Obtaining a job on campus can provide significant financial assistance by offering additional income and real-world job experience. Campus jobs, depending on the type of work, have a varying pay scale, which creates options for students looking for the most suitable position. Adult students can gain management skills by serving as a campus building manager, refine their research and analysis proficiency through academic assistantships, practice concepts learned in the classroom through hands-on workshops, as well as expand their community networks through planning fundraisers and university advancement initiatives. College cooperative and internship programs also can provide some financial assistance, but even greater professional experience.
Extended Studies and Programs
Many universities offer certification programs that can be attended and achieved through evening and/or weekend classes. These curricula are often focused around specific occupations such as web programming and design, market research, event planning, Microsoft and Adobe product certification. These studies are purely academic, but often result in collaborations that may not be assigned through homework. For example, a student leader in a club may be asked to design a website for their respective organization. Because of that co-curricular connection, a student will have an opportunity to practice what they have learned, and use that as a potential portfolio item during a job interview. There may be programs and events held on campus allowing for technical skills to be put to use. For example, a student may be attending a student activity that is interrupted by technical challenges. They may be called upon to work, in a volunteer capacity within that event, for troubleshooting, solution creation, and maintenance because they are in an audio tech certification program. Extended studies have one of the closest connections to student programming and feature some of the most suitable resume qualifications.
Non-traditional student involvement in co-curricular initiatives will always look different than that of traditional-age students. This is due to their external engagements such as jobs, family, and other significant commitments. Therefore, the most realistic and effective method by which a non-traditional student can maximize their own return on investment is through the three aforementioned branches of co-curricular programming.
For anyone working at a college or university, no matter the student population, it is highly important to stress that a student’s return on investment should not be measured solely on the cost of tuition and how that compares to your rate of pay upon entrance to a professional job. Rather, a new formula should be taken into consideration. This is one that outlines the cost of co-curricular initiatives from the student lens versus the perceived impact from those activities and programs, availability of student organizations, scholarships and DIO’s.
The skills gained from a co-curricular education improve self-development and discovery, professionalism, and generate true transferable skillsets for a prospective occupation. When students take advantage of these co-curricular opportunities, their return on investment is far greater than a student who attends, then heads home after class. Therefore, when we think of those programs such as student involvement fairs, career nights, events, and student clubs, it is important we dismiss the notion of “extra,” and shift our thinking toward “co,” as the partnership between these two branches of higher education will promote excellence within our student bodies and university cultures.
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Author Perspective: Administrator