We have been hearing more and more about “today’s students” and how they are much more likely to be older people who work and have significant family responsibilities. Some people also refer to these students as nontraditional, post-traditional or simply as adult learners. Regardless of what term is used, colleges and universities are starting to pay a lot more attention to these students, but many postsecondary institutions often wonder what they should be doing differently to meet the needs of today’s students.
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) provides guidance to these colleges through our Ten Principles for Effectively Serving Adults. Colleges can use these principles to assess the policies, practices and programs that affect their adult students. For college leaders who want additional assistance, we also have a tool called Adult Learner 360. It consists of two surveys: one for institutional administrators and faculty, and the other for the institution’s adult students. With this data in hand, colleges and universities can better understand where to prioritize their resources to focus on programs, services and policies that break down barriers to help their adult learners succeed.
In a new report, we tell the stories of three institutions that used the Adult Learner 360 data tools to guide their decisions as they built programs and services and developed new approaches for addressing the complex needs of their current and prospective adult students. For example, after learning that its adult students were not able to access critical support services during daytime hours, Northwestern State University in Louisiana expanded its hours to better accommodate students who wanted to attend evening and weekend classes. Another institution, Shasta College, learned that, instead of additional online courses, the college’s adult students wanted more face-to-face courses offered outside of normal work hours. Empowered by this information, Shasta expanded the number of evening and weekend courses.
As the report highlights, the needs of adult students can vary from one institution to the next. Solutions need to be customized to each institution’s unique adult population.
That’s the beauty of relying on data to focus efforts on where changes are most needed.