Published on 2012/06/27

Reacting to Change is Vital For Higher Education’s Continued Relevance

Among any group of students—especially non-traditional students—there are a number of individual back-stories which require some element of compassionate student care to ensure student success. Photo by Wayne Large.

Many workplace challenges—and other challenges—we have today will persist as learners are ill-prepared to deal with them. To change this trajectory higher education institutions will have to become more student-friendly and flexible in the way in which they do business, remembering that their number one constituent group is learners who are becoming less and less traditional, coming to the institution with more complexities and prior learning.

To meet students’ needs higher education institution will have to recognize that learners may have more than one or even more than jobs; have young or college age children; have rebellious teenager(s); perhaps an incarcerated child, sibling or significant other; have a debilitating illness that makes attendance less frequent; a job that something require missing more than 25% of their classes; may have physical conditions that make them less able and mobile; senior citizen; newlywed; national guard personnel; law enforcement personnel; caregiver; new parent; grandparent or even great grandparent; military spouse or member; retiree; former offender; person on disability; mentally less adjusted; a brain injury; language deficient; new arrival; different learning experiences; computer illiterate or literate; learning maladaptation; pregnant or having a difficult pregnancy; have no money just a dream; at college because their parent said so; profession; trades person; blue color worker; displace worker; victim of domestic abuse.

I realize this is a long list, but that’s the point. Each student is different, and each student may have a back-story that requires understanding and compassionate student care for these students to succeed. Learners bring everything about them to the learning space and as much as they must learn to manage these, higher education institutions have a responsibility to help facilities learners in managing these through the targeted services they provide. It is only in changing some things in their responsiveness to learners will higher education institutions become more aligned for equipping learners for knowledge work, innovation and change.

Ultimately, higher education institutions will have to become more flexible in the following areas:

  1. Admission and selection policies will have to become tiered or more opened.
  2. Different schools for differently prepared learners as all learners matter in this knowledge driven economy.
  3. Degree programs will have to be more flexible; congruent to required workplace knowledge, skills, abilities, attitudes and innovation.
  4. The prerequisite model will have to become more flexible, with a greater appreciation for prior learning.
  5. Classes to teach shortened versions (pidgin versions) of foreign languages to facilitate cross-cultural engagements, interactions and learning.
  6. Services offered to “traditional students” must exist for non-traditional learners as well.
  7. Online learners learn in a self-directed environment, therefore services should be available 24 hours as well as through some kind of a 24 hour call-in system.
  8. Repositories of relevant content congruent with the subject learners are taking must be made available to all online learners.
  9. Online simulation or specific subject matter games must be available to all learners, especially online learners.
  10. Voice activated answering system should be made available to all learners, especially online learners to help them work through challenging problems or questions.
  11. Rules that forbid children on campus because for insurance purposes must be abolished as “non-traditional” learners sometimes have many things going on that the only way to satisfy academic requirements is to have their children on campus during class.
  12. Evening daycare must be made available for evening learners as it is for daytime learners.
  13. More studies should be conducted to about lifelong learning to figure the right mix of teaching and learning and services that will increase learners’ chances of doing well in their program.
  14. More adjuncts must be made available to aid all learners with electronic tools.
  15. Semester-long orientation program for all learners, especially non-traditional learners.
  16. Further changes to the cohort model are needed for non-traditional learners. It will boost their confidence in their abilities, thus their chances of succeeding in their overall learning.
  17. Medical, mental health, advisement and career services must be made available to all learners, including online learners in that space as appropriate.
  18. Need-based as well as merit-based financial aid must be available to all learners, especially nontraditional learners whose employer does not provide any kind of assistance of one reason or another.

As it stands today, many higher education institutions are not adequately equipped to serve non-traditional students who sometimes may have one or more of the situations requiring compassion care. Correcting these require higher education leaders to do some soul searching by revising their mission, vision and purpose to see where they might have veered off. This more true today than even as something different is needed for different kinds of leaning to take place as a different kind of learner has emerged.

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Education Futures Editors (July, 29, 2010). Moravec: Focus on HOW to learn, not WHAT to learn. Victor Yu (Udemy) interviewed John Moravec. Retrieved June 7, 2012 from

Frost, K. (October 27, 2008). Dropping out–or leaping ahead? Retrieved June 7, 2012 from

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