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Small Institutions Can Drive Market Share With Focus on Multi-Format Accessibility

Small Institutions Can Drive Market Share With Focus on Multi-Format Accessibility
Private universities have an opportunity to greatly increase their share of the adult student marketplace by creating stronger partnerships with employers and community colleges.
It’s no secret that adult students consider a variety of options when contemplating a return to college. Some schools have been pioneers in this for decades by offering correspondence, accelerated and evening courses. With the rise of the Internet, there has also been a huge transition to fully online courses and degrees over the last 15 years.

Many would think adult students now have all options available to them, but do they really? While this is not a new trend, smaller private institutions have an opportunity to set themselves apart even further from for-profit mega universities and public institutions.

Research indicates that adult students choose online classes based on commitments that limit their ability to take traditional on-campus classes. Those commitments include long work hours, shift work, corporate travel, family, childcare and social responsibilities.[1] Howell, Williams, & Lindsay further state that adults struggle with “money, and long-term commitment constraints. They also tend to feel insecure about their ability to succeed in distance learning, find instruction that matches their learning style, and have sufficient instructor contact, support services and technology training.”[2]

The wheel does not need to be recreated, but colleges need to be smarter and more strategic with how they address the needs of adult students. Dunn estimates that “by 2025, half of today’s existing independent colleges will be closed, merged or significantly altered in mission.”[3]

A growing practice that many, but not enough, private colleges have adopted for the last 10 years is offering a variety of formats to include online, face-to-face and hybrid classes mixed with accelerated, evening and weekend offerings. Brunner explains that “hybrid courses have certain potential advantages over both face-to-face courses and online courses that can concretely improve the quality of student learning.”[4] He goes on to say that, “hybrid courses [compel] faculty, through a reduction in seat time, to introduce varied ways of learning into their face-to-face classes, and allows them to do so gradually.”[5]

By offering the complete mix of formats, colleges and universities are able to compete for the most number of students because no one is excluded based on their preference of learning format.

The most exciting trend is private colleges’ use of satellite campuses through partnerships with corporations and community colleges. Any college with capital can lease a building in a community and slap its name on the front. It takes much more strategy, finesse and collaboration to partner with another entity to have a fully embedded community partnership offering degrees at a satellite location. This strategy can pay off with higher dividends and a more positive community relationship. Choitz and Prince provide the following case study:

One example can be found in northeast Chicago at Truman College, which has developed an employer-based, online/hybrid nursing curriculum for University of Chicago Hospital employees. The schedule includes online instruction two days each week, plus classroom instruction and a lab on Fridays at the hospital. A community college partner, Harold Washington College, provides pre-requisite classes in math and English at the hospital for workers who need to brush up on these skills. Upon completion of the program, participants earn an associate’s degree in nursing.[6]

This is a perfect example of how a private college is partnering with an area employer and a local college to meet the needs of adult learners in the community. The new concept or trend making its way into the limelight is taking education to students in the multiple formats they want in order to provide them with the ultimate flexibility to attain their degree.

More partnerships need to be developed to offer degree programs in the training rooms of employers’ buildings and in the classrooms of community college campuses. Most adults who spend two years at a community college would be thrilled to complete their four-year degree in those same classrooms. This is the opportunity that colleges and universities need to address in educating a growing workforce and adult student populations. Accessibility, flexibility and affordability are the three keys that should be a part of every college’s mission statement for adult learners.

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[1] M. Hannay and T Newvine, “Perceptions of distance learning: A comparison of online and traditional learning,” Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 2006. Pages 1-9.

[2] S. Howell, P. Williams, and N. Lindsay, “Thirty-two trends affecting distance education: An informed foundation for strategic planning,” Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Vol 6 (3), Fall 2003. Page 4

[3] S. Dunn, “The virtualizing of education,” The Futurist. Vol 34 (2), 2000. Page 37

[4] D. Brunner, “The potential of the hybrid course vis-à-vis online and traditional courses,” Teaching Theology and Religion, Vol 9 (4), 2006. Page 229

[5] Ibid, 231

[6] V. Choitz and H. Prince, “Flexible learning options for adult students: A report by FutureWorks and Jobs for the Future for the Employment and Training Administration,” Department of Labor, April 2008. Page 12

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