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Enrollment Is Down, And It Hurts!

Colleges and universities are losing adult students in troubling numbers. Learning institutions must take action to create harmony between workplace obligations and the demands of pursuing a degree.

Have today’s corporations and institutions taken for granted that educated, competent workers will continue to be available to fill positions?

Managers and business leaders can’t rely on an educated, skilled workforce if today’s workers don’t enroll in programs toward degree, certifications or other training.

Recent data coming from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows some worrying trends in the world of college enrollment. College enrollment has already fallen 1.7 percent from just last fall. Even more troubling is the fact that much of that loss is credited to older students. In fact, the bulk of the decline is attributed to students over the age of 24.

Bottom line, this means that many adults in the workforce have lost interest in pursuing higher degrees.

Implications of Dwindling Enrollments
While a few percentage points may not seem like a big deal at first glance, the implications of this data are quite serious for modern learning institutions. Students over the age of 24 represent 36 percent of the total fall 2015 enrollments. If these students were to disappear from the classroom entirely, institutions would be left with many empty seats. These vanishing students leave behind a legacy of unfinished degrees and high dropout rates that weigh heavily on the reputations of learning institutions.

Why Enrollments of Adult Students is Dwindling
The numbers point to the fact that many adult students may have difficulty getting the necessary resources or encouragement from employers. Most of the decline took place at two-year public institutions and four-year for-profit institutions. This points to the notion that the paths to degrees laid out by traditional colleges and universities simply aren’t ideal for adult learners.

One other telling detail from the data is that part-time enrollment declined at a slightly higher rate than full-time enrollment. It can be assumed that many part-time students choose to learn on a part-time basis because they also manage the responsibilities of jobs and careers. These same learners have difficulty keeping up with the demands of learning while working.

Far too many institutions are simply allowing these learners to slip through the cracks. Leaders at colleges and universities need to stand up and take notice. There simply must be more flexible and accessible methods of pursuing degrees for adult students if enrollment numbers are to improve.

The Key to Encouraging Enrollments
Partnership is ultimately the key to creating fulfilled, engaged adult learners and improving enrollment retention rates. The first place colleges and universities must look to repair enrollment numbers is the workplace.

Are learning institutions doing enough to eliminate the adversarial nature between the workplace and the classroom? Have learning institutions reached out to all types of industries to collaborate on creating flexible, lifestyle-friendly degree paths that make it possible for workers to learn new skills?

Colleges and universities must create the type of programs that make companies and organizations want to sponsor learning programs for employees. One of the best ways to incentivize companies to offer educational reimbursement is to create degree programs that are efficient and affordable.

Competency-based learning is a great way to cut the cost and time it takes for an adult student to earn a degree. Competency-based learning awards credits for experience and knowledge. As a result, students can spend less time and money to earn a degree. This gives employers the ability to create an educated, competent workforce in a relatively short amount of time.


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