Back to School ABC's For The Adult Learner

Liz Kistner - Monday, October 27, 2014

Higher Education has never been more important in today's knowledge-driven society.  Transformation of the world economy and global competitiveness is putting high demand for an educated workforce with postsecondary skills and credentials.  The Department of Education of Labor projects that by next year there will be close to four million new job openings combined in health care, education, computer and mathematical sciences. 

Adults of all ages are returning to school looking for ways to upgrade and expand their skills to improve or protect their economic position.  The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 9 million older adults (defined as beyond the typical 18-22 year old range) were enrolled in college in 2010.  The Apollo Research Institute projects that enrollment will grow 20 percent by 2016.  According to the American Council of Education, more than 50 percent of student are older adults.

Battling a drop in applications.  Students are becoming more selective in choosing an educational institution; discerning and demanding better value for their money and effort in an increasingly competitive landscape of choices.  Achieve institutional success by focusing on student success, outcomes, social and academic integration, retention, and engagement.   Break down barriers that exist for adult students:  personal, professional, institutional.  Provide options, alternatives and a pathway that incorporates a clear and obtainable plan built with timelines, short and long term goals and overall costs for degree completion.  Evaluate your credit transfer policies.  Craft a flexible credit-transfer system that allows students to move between institutions.  Continue ongoing review of financial aid polices and scholarship opportunities; stay abreast of legislative bills that are proposed, amended and signed into law.  

Continually innovate.   Test new methods of teaching, curricula, technologies and content delivery.  Infuse curricula that allows students opportunities to specialize early, expand concentration offerings on hot topics such as entrepreneurship and innovation.  Give students the ability to customize their studies with different "pathways" giving them greater leeway and flexibility.   Provide disciplines critical to global competitiveness, national security, and economic prosperity:  STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics).  Promote learning paradigms such as distance education, adult education, workplace programs to accommodate a diverse student cohort.  Emerging technology is revolutionizing higher education.  Cloud computing (web-based tools where students and educator can collaborate online),  mobile technology, open content, learning analytics, and personal learning environments.  These information technology- based collaborative tools will be important in building the next generation learning environments.