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What It Takes to Bring Adults Back

What It Takes to Bring Adults Back
Shifting gears to serve non-traditional students requires institutional administrators to understand and respond to the specific needs of adults.

The following email Q&A is with Dustin Worsley, assistant director of the Academic Center of Excellence and Adult Re-Entry Coordinator at Columbus State University. Over the past few months, more focus has been placed on the importance of serving the adult student marketplace, especially since recent reports indicate that 31 million American adults are already partway toward a degree. In this interview, Worsley shares his thoughts on the biggest challenges adult students face when it comes to re-entering higher education and discusses some strategies that could help them to overcome those obstacles.

1. Why is it important for universities to gear programming, and to focus outreach, toward the adult student marketplace?

In the state of Georgia, particularly at Columbus State University (CSU), we’re working fervently toward meeting Governor Nathan Deal’s Complete College Georgia goal of 60 percent of Georgians having some type of degree by 2020 in an effort to meet job needs in the state. There are not enough traditional (18 to 22-year-old) students matriculating from high school to colleges and universities to meet this goal. Therefore, it’s imperative to entice adult learners back to college.

2. From your experience, what are some of the most common barriers adults need to overcome when they consider enrolling at a four-year university? 

There are three major barriers adult students need to overcome when they consider enrolling in a postsecondary program:

    • Time: Many adult learners have families, jobs and other responsibilities competing for their time. It’s a challenge to find a program that’s flexible enough to accommodate the busy lives of adult learners.


    • Money: Financial concerns are another factor and potential barrier. The current economic climate has put a strain on household incomes and budgets.


  • Self-efficacy: One of the biggest surprises I’ve had working with adult learners is their initial lack of confidence. They’re apprehensive about the idea of returning to college; therefore they require reassurance, motivation and guidance at the beginning. Generally, after one semester of support, most adult learners have regained their confidence, understand expectations and no longer need extra support.

3. What can universities do to help adults overcome these challenges?  

Successful strategies and interventions are often subjective. First, universities can offer more programs, initiatives and services tailored for adult learners. Initiatives including “Go Back Move Ahead” will assist in engaging adult learners. CSU also has an office and resource center exclusively for serving adult learners. This space not only has a single point of contact (an adult learner liaison), but it also has a resource center with computers, network printer, study tables, TV, couch and coffee pot exclusively for adult learners. This space allows adult learners to connect with other adult learners. CSU also offers online and hybrid programs and courses that can meet the unique needs of adult learners.

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