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What Adult Students Need For Success

Posted by Scott Campbell on Jan 27, 2016 6:00:00 AM

Topics: Adult Student Success, Best Practices, Student Expectations, Adult Learning, Assessment

What_Adult_Students_Need_for_Success.jpgThe image of a college student in a dorm on campus living an active social life, with expenses and health insurance covered by the parents, is outdated. Today's student is more likely to be over 25 with a full-time job and a family to support. As a matter of fact, most have been working a decade or more, and many have enrolled to further their careers after having not been in a classroom for years. Many have a lengthy commute from workplace to campus to home.

Colleges, universities and vocational/technical schools are still adjusting to this influx of adult students, and employers are still struggling to balance business goals with the need for employees with enhanced skills. Meanwhile, non-traditional students often must overcome challenges that traditional students do not; they must balance work life, family commitments and school life. If they are to succeed, they need special considerations, for example:

  1. They want credit for the knowledge and skills acquired outside of the classroom. Prior Learning Assessment is a concept that has been gaining ground in recent years. The fundamental idea is to recognize that not all learning happens in a classroom. Giving adult students credit for what they have learned on the job or through self-study can shorten the time needed to earn their degrees. As one adult learner, Diana, put it, "I had been working in the accounting field for over 20 years when I decided it was time to pursue a degree. During my working life, I had worked as a full-charge bookkeeper, managed the billing department for a branch of a Fortune 500 corporation, and managed an inventory valued at more than $2 million. When I enrolled I discovered that my first accounting class was a mandatory pre-requisite course that covered little more than fundamentals, such as debits and credits, the definition of income statements and balance sheets, the chart of accounts and similar rudimentary principles that I already knew. The entire semester, all I could think was what a waste of time and money the course was."
  2. They need better transferability of credits and greater consensus among schools regarding acceptable courses. "Family demands forced me to interrupt my education when I was just 17 credit-hours short of my bachelor's degree,” said a student named Franklin. “I had earned all of my credits at a major state university in Texas. Several years later, I moved to Oklahoma and decided to finish my degree. The counselor told me seven of my courses had no equivalent at my new school."
  3. They need instructors who understand scheduling issues. As Gail related, "My first semester, I dropped two classes after the first day. One instructor had a mandatory attendance policy that penalized by one letter-grade for every two absences. I worked full time, and overtime was often required, so I knew I could easily wind up failing the course just by meeting my work commitments. The second course I dropped because the instructor required every student to participate in group exercises outside class. I'm working full time, driving 25 miles each way to campus and married with two young children - fitting in another two trips to campus was just too much."

If America is to meet the demand for a highly skilled, well-educated workforce, it will need adult students. But if they are to succeed, they will need a responsive educational system.


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