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Making The Adult-Friendly Dean

“Everybody's talking at me, I don't hear a word they're saying” are song lyrics that easily describe adults who are considering beginning, restarting or completing their higher education goals.

Adult learning theories suggest that adults are self-directed, engage in active experimentation and have a strong sense of purpose with regard to their learning goals but the paradox is, higher education institutions are not prepared to assist them.

The National Center for Education statistics show that 41% students enrolled in college are 25 years and older. Many colleges and universities have opened adult degree-completion programs, with accelerated and online courses, flexible start dates and prior learning assessment but are still facing enrollment challenges, negative retention and persistence, and low graduation rates for their adult populations. So why isn’t this population following the program?

CAEL believes the answer is embracing strategic adaptivity, with each institution and system intentionally creating and implementing collaborative strategies that address not only policy change but also process change.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, Colleges Make It Easier for Older Students, suggests that students don’t know how to overcome some of the basic obstacles such as financial aid. Clearly, institutions are not doing a good job of providing even the basic information for the challenges that adult students face, even though many have scholarship programs and flexible financing options for adult students in place.

It is up to institutions to look at adult students holistically, providing them with clear pathways to completion, whether that completion is a higher education certificate or a Master’s Degree.

Rather than responding to their unique needs as an after-thought or an adapted version of the supports provided to traditional students, higher education institutions need to transform, refine and scale practices for effectively serving the adult student population.

And, because there is constant opportunities and threats from external partners, governmental agencies and economic forces, institutions need to acknowledge that change will continue to be fast and inevitable. Institutions need to respond with a meaningful narrative about how they can equip students with the learning and tools necessary to meet the current and future socio-economic needs of this country.

CAEL offers tools that can support colleges, universities and systems in managing change. We offer workshops and consultations around advising adult students, creating policies around PLA and process mapping, as well as facilitating change management discussions and planning with key stakeholders at institutions.

Our Adult Learner 360 is an assessment tool that measures how effectively an institution is serving its adult students. CAEL works with institutions to create a culture of innovation that can respond quickly to disruptions, as well as executing and implementing changes that offer success for both the institutions and for their adult students.

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If your institution or organization is seeking guidance, solutions, or support from CAEL, or if you have an idea for a future collaboration initiative with us, please reach out. We'd love to connect.

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