Pathway to your Adult Learner

Liz Kistner - Monday, October 27, 2014

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail", as quoted by Ralph Waldo Emerson. What type of path are you developing for your adult learners? A nontraditional learner is defined as a student who does not fit the typical profile of the 18-22 year old full-time undergraduate. According to the U.S. Department of Education 2002, 73% of all postsecondary undergraduates are "nontraditional". Of those, 30% fall under the category of undergraduates who are working adults. There are 54 million working adults in the United States (2007) without a bachelor degree. As the population of nontraditional, working adults continues to grow, how are you meeting their needs? Factors that influence the nontraditional educational experience include:

  1. A dedicated community of faculty and staff who offer students social and personal support systems with intellectual development.
  2. Offer accelerated cohort programs which enable students to obtain college credits, certificates, and degrees in less time than would be required for a traditional program.
  3. Craft teaching methods relevant to the adult learner.
  4. Provide academic services that are most responsive to students' needs: advising, admissions and financial-aid assistance.
  5. Safety and security both on-campus and online.
  6. Understand the difference between first-generation and continuing-generation students. **
  7. Comprehensive program that familiarizes students with the university and its systems.
  8. Students' ability to interact with peers and faculty.
  9. Recognize students' motivation for their decision to enroll in college- career, financial and family, in that order.

**Generate a separate model for first-generation (typical characteristics: female, older, have dependents, come from a lower socioeconomic status, work more hours, less academically prepared, less overall college knowledge, less academic and social integration and higher attrition) vs. continuing-generation student.

Adult learners are continuingly reformulating and refining their identity. Higher education plays an important part in this process. It is critical for schools to evaluate their educational programs and determine new and creative ways to service this growing sector.


  • "Working adults in accelerated cohorts: More than a learning community" by Robin Spaid

  • "First versus Continuing-Generation Adult Students on College Perceptions: Are differences actually because of demographic variance?" by Jennifer Giancola

  • "Possible Selves and Career Transition: Implications for Serving Nontraditional Students" by Marsha Rossiter

  • American Council on Education, "Adult Learners in the United States: A National Profile" 2006

  • The Council for Adult & Experiential Learning

  • "Work first , study second: adult undergraduates who combine employment and postsecondary enrollment"

  • "Occupation of employed persons 25 years old and over, by educational attainment and sex: 2007"

  • "Labor force participation rates and employment to population ratios of persons 16 to 64 years old, by highest level of education, age, sex, and race/ethnicity: 2007" Table 381.

  • "Adult Learners in Higher Education: Barriers to Success and Strategies to Improve Results"
    Brian Bosworth, Abigail Callahan, Vickie Choitz, Chris Davidson, John Hoops, Richard Kazis, and Annie McLeod