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Supporting Working Adults at the Community College (Part 2)

Supporting Working Adults at the Community College (Part 2)
Focusing on flexibility and blending workforce training strategies into traditional curriculum are important elements to improving postsecondary higher education for working adults.
This is the conclusion of Ian Roark’s two-part series exploring a few of the strategies community colleges can put in place to better support and serve working adult students. In the first part, Roark shed light on the changing higher education landscape and the increasing number of adults enrolling in postsecondary programming. He also discussed the first of his three strategies: aligning programming to the labor market. In this conclusion, Roark discusses his remaining strategies: blending concepts and structures of education and training, and scheduling classes to support adult student access and success.

2. Blend Education and Training

Blending education and training through flexible continuing education offerings is another way to support working adults. The distinction between education and training is increasingly blurred within the current national economy and in the context of local and regional labor markets. Employers are more and more vested in competency-based outcomes and industry-recognized credentials rather than degree/non-degree status of new hires. This mindset allows for community colleges to offer non-credit equivalency courses and programs through their continuing education and training departments.

Cross-listing non-credit courses with their college credit equivalents (usually through a state-approved course catalogue) is a common practice that allows for some infusion of continuing education into degree programs. However, such cross-listed courses still limit working adults to the traditional college schedule. Instead, institutions should consider continuing education training as part of faculty loads. Faculty would then be free to work with students and employers to schedule the courses for times that work best for all parties — times and ranges that usually fall outside of the traditional academic calendar. If learning outcome equivalency to the degree program courses is maintained through these training options, this then allows for another option for non-credit-to-credit transference for those trainees interested in pursuing a full degree.

3. Schedule for Student Access and Success

The value of wholly online programs for working adults is already well established. But not all programs can be offered online, nor should they be; some skills can only be taught in lab and workplace settings. In tandem with more flexible scheduling options through continuing education versions of courses, community colleges can explore other ways to restructure their traditional academic schedule in ways to support working adults.

Moving to an eight-week course paradigm where long semesters are subdivided into two distinct eight-week blocks allows for working adults to focus on one or two classes at a time for half of a semester instead of three or four for the whole semester. Then they can balance work and class schedules with fewer classes at a time, while maintaining their pace through their program of study. The increase in class time per week in each eight-week segment can then be offset through online or hybrid delivery of content, which frees up needed class time for skills practice or other enrichment activities. In addition, offering night and weekend courses and programs with intensive online and hybrid content delivery allows working adults to select programs that best fit their work schedules.


When it comes to supporting working adults, the most important thing for community colleges to do is understand the needs of their working students and their local employers. Then, labor market alignment, blending education and training and scheduling for student access and success become easier for the local college and community.

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