Three Ways Adult Students Benefit Their InstitutionsKen Udas | Higher Education Itinerant & Adjunct Professor, University of Southern Queensland
What do adult and non-traditional learners bring to the university? Amid all of the dialogue about what a university education brings to adult and non-traditional learners, this question is frequently left unexplored and its subject, underappreciated.
The most easy, pragmatic and cyclical responses to the question focus on growth and revenue. Given the current financial climate, revenue generation is frequently the first thought that comes to mind, but if it is the only thought, the university almost certainly will do its students and itself a critical disservice.
I have outlined three major areas where I think adult and non-traditional students provide the most value to their college or university.
1. Adult Learners Feed Our Missions For many universities, adult and non-traditional learners represent the vast majority of the school’s intended service population. It is through teaching these learners that we achieve our raison d’être and meet the legitimate expectations of our funders and the communities that depend on us. Non-traditional, adult, part-time, non-credit seeking and non-residential learners now represent the majority of learners and, in time, we will think of them as our traditional learners.
Embracing the adult learner is an important part of maintaining an institution’s relevance, regardless of its mission.
2. Adult Learners Force Creativity and Change In many ways, universities with a legacy of serving adult learners are traditionally ahead of the curve, sometimes by decades. Adult learners tend to be overwhelmingly and disproportionately part-time or full-time workers. Their life circumstances have created demands for different services, normally providing more convenience and creative teaching and service options. After all, both distance and online learning grew to meet the needs of non-traditional learner populations.
Necessity has proven to be the mother of invention. For those universities that provide excellent experiences to their adult learners, necessity has driven them to create workflows and services that meet the convenience needs of adult learners, and for those institutions committed to having their adult learners be important parts of the university community, creative use of technology has been essential. Over time, the convenience and creativity we have provided to our adult learners have become expected by all learners.
3. Adult Learners Provide Diversity The adult learner potentially contributes to the diversity of the student body in ways that include, but extend beyond, traditional categories of diversity. Frequently having lifetimes of experiences, adult learners offer unique and unexpected insights in classes and connections with communities, other organisations and institutions.
In many ways, it is this diversity that has changed the shape of adult-serving colleges and universities and continues to point toward the broad changes that are happening around us.
Ultimately, more than anything else, adult and non-traditional learners provide the institutions who serve them well with the impetus for meaningful change and the opportunity for continued relevance. In our service to non-traditional learners, we naturally refer to what is on the horizon, while maintaining connections with our educational missions, our communities and a broad array of funders that see higher education as an important part of addressing the needs of a complex and dynamic society.
Author Perspective: Administrator