Published on 2012/05/18

MAY PANEL | Adult Student Retention: Why Devote Special Resources To This Group?

More and more adults are enrolling in colleges and universities across the country, and institutions are scrambling to accommodate this increase in non-traditional students. Administrators and educators from across the country have come together to discuss why adult students require innovative and new approaches to retention than traditional-age students. Photo by James Jordan.

Today, more and more adults are enrolling in colleges and universities and higher education institutions must evolve to cope with this paradigm shift. Today, The EvoLLLution is posting responses to the topic “Adult Student Retention: Why Devote Special Resources To This Group?” In addition to the following shorter responses, there are three longer responses that have been contributed by Andrée Robinson-Neal of Azusa Pacific University, Andrés Fortino of DeVry College of New York and George Mouzakitis of e-DEKA Educational Organization.

Richard Novak | Associate Vice President for Continuing Studies and Distance Learning, Rutgers University

Adults have become a dominant force in higher education. We work to help all students succeed, but there may be a couple special reasons to help adults to be successful. Consider:

Adults enrich the college classroom and raise the bar for everyone. Because adults must find time in a busy schedule, with many priorities, to fulfill the role of student, they take on this role with a level of seriousness, persistence and integrity.  Their social norms of working hard, completing assignments, handing work in on time, not cheating on assignments or exams are all salutary for a more positively enrichment classroom environment.

Adults are constituents that we want on our side, advocating for higher education. They vote, they pay significant taxes, with any luck they are gainfully employed. Adults who are successful will likely remember the people and institutions that helped them succeed. They may reward their alma mater, but, at least as important, they may serve as mentors for other students. They may leverage their employment positions to make room and lend a hand to fellow students, helping even more students to be successful.

Beth Rubin | Director of SNL (School of New Learning) Online, DePaul University

Adult students need special resources to support retention because many have other responsibilities including work and families; they carry heavy burdens and it is easy for school to get pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Second, adults generally commute or take online classes, and therefore have less social support to help them weather the challenges. Third, many adults struggle with academic writing and math because it has been so long since they used those skills. Fourth, many can only do coursework at night or on weekends; they need access to support outside of “business hours.”

Luckily, adult learners tend to be serious about their education; if schools provide flexible but rigorous courses, flexible support systems, advisers, personal connection and understanding faculty, adult learners can succeed over the long term. And when courses are designed to develop competence and support the application of skills and knowledge in the outside world, it can also enhance retention.

Theresa Pittman | Chair of the Office of Distributed Learning, College of the North Atlantic

College of the North Atlantic invests heavily in the retention of our students, all of whom are adult learners. It is felt strategic enrollment planning is critical to fulfilling the college’s vision and reaching its goals.

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador has successfully weathered the global economic downturn over the past few years. With a number of mega-projects on the horizon, the need for skilled workers and quality educational offerings will play a key role in the province’s social and economic development. The investment in the retention and success of our adult learners will result in economic benefits for the province by supporting the growth of our business, industries and people.

Frank McCluskey | Assistant Vice President and Scholar in Residence, American Public University System

When the Federal Government measures college students they use the IPEDS formula which only measures first-time, full-time students. This leaves out 85% of the students actually attending college.

There is need for analysis of how adults behave differently than traditional college freshmen. New studies by the Gates Foundation and Lumina are looking at how adults behave. Online learning gives us a digital record we can use to analyze these tendencies. The information economy makes adult education a new reality.

Terence Gleason | Manager of Distance Education, Fullerton College

I would change the statement to: Why you and your institution feel that Adult Learners deserve special attention?

Adult Learners are often more focused, more committed, and more ambitious than other students who are not sure why they are pursuing a course of study in Secondary Education. An Adult learner is often returning to an institution with the idea that this time they are going to do it right!

Adult Learners appreciate the “Personal Best” aspect of pursuing a course of study. Sharing this experience with others can translate into additional students for an institution.  Adult learner’s intense commitment can result in higher values for institutional Success & Retention data.

Miren Ivankovic | Economics Professor, Clemson University

At my institution there are two types of adult students, undergraduate and graduate. From my past and present experience with adult learners, I find them more dedicated, focused, polite in the classroom and just eager to learn more. That is understandable since their opportunity cost of obtaining education is pretty high. Therefore, they are a valuable asset to any school.

At my previous institution, they made up a larger student body than the traditional group. And, their test scores on the MFAT exam (business majors) were higher on average as well.

I am not sure if any special resources are devoted toward this group, but if there are, main reason is that this group makes up a very solid percentage of Universities’ cash flows (revenues).  I see school’s willingness to oblige to this group by making flexible class schedules, shorter duration of the classes, on-line versions, and most importantly, a more “gentle” approach to academic rigor. That is especially true at the undergraduate levels. Large numbers of adjunct professors that teach those classes make that “gentle” approach even more so.

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Readers Comments

Greg Allan 2012/05/18 at 6:53 am

Okay, I’m going to have to go ahead and be the voice of reason here.

It’s true, adults want to be at school to either advance their careers or start new work. Either way, they understand why they’re in colleges and universities, and something in their lie has triggered them and inspired them to commit to their education.

I don’t see why we need to spend additional resources trying to get this group through their degree programs when they’re already convinced enough of the value of the degree that they’re back in our halls.

We need to focus on the traditional-age students, because they have no idea what they’re in higher ed for or what the consequences of not finishing their degrees are. That way, we can make sure that there’s less adults in the future who are forced to juggle home, work and school in order to get their Associate’s Degree or BA.

WA Anderson 2012/05/18 at 3:20 pm

Wait… so this isn’t all the more reason to focus on that student group?

What you’re saying is that we need to allow adults to continue to flounder in a system that doesn’t recognise or respect them because we’ve got them hook, line and sinker – whereas we still need to convince traditional students of our worth.

That’s a misguided and unfortunate perspective you have, Mr. Allan.

Adrianna Franklinberg 2012/05/18 at 3:31 pm

Appreciate seeing these diverse opinions on such an exciting topic. It’s especially interesting for those of us working on these issues in the field, every single day.

Suzanne 2012/05/18 at 6:50 pm

Adults that achieve academic success build stronger workforces, stronger communities and stronger families. Theses strengths have huge impact on our economy, our civic health and our future generations. Reason enough for me!

Elizabeth 2012/05/22 at 5:10 pm

There are very few career paths that are mapped out with a linear time-line of achievement and goals.

Furthermore, many adults may be considering a change of career, and then will investigate educational options.

Or, an adult may wish to pursue education to cultivate a combination of skills and strengths unique to that person’s interests or market need.

However, higher education requires prerequisites for almost all academic pursuits, but rarely offers these prerequisite courses in a flexible way so that a working adult can achieve these prerequisites. This may stall an adult who is looking to grow though education in order to offer new solutions.

The bottom line is that by stalling an individual in their educational and intellectual growth, we also stall our society and allow the economy to remain stale.

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