Colleges are failing older students, writes Lila Selim in The Atlantic. She flunked out of college in her sophomore year, cycled through part-time programs and finally earned a degree. That makes her part of the “new majority” of older students. Few can enroll full-time while supporting themselves “and often a child or relative.”
Unfortunately, part-time attendees are set up for failure. Most universities, even community colleges, which are meant to serve just these kinds of students, schedule few classes in the evenings. Administrative offices aren’t open outside of business hours. Online classes, widely touted to adult learners as practical and convenient, are hard to commit to . . .
Part-timers get very little student aid, Selim writes. Pell Grants cover a small share of college costs and are prorated. Universities usually reserve scholarships for full-time students.
The Full Time is 15 initiative is encouraging colleges to provide incentives to students who take 15 credits — not just 12 — per semester. That moves students more quickly to a degree — if they can afford to take that many units. But trying to push adults “into the traditional student model only locks them out of the system, she writes.
Several schools are also pushing programs to make school more conducive to working adults—from things as simple as offering consistent courses at consistent times, so students can plan their next term, to adding prior learning assessment programs, where, for of a fraction of normal tuition cost, a student can create a portfolio displaying academic study related to their previous professional experience.
The 18- to 22-year-old full-time, dorm-dwelling residential college student represents only 15 percent of college enrollees, writes Tressie McMillan Cottom in Slate. President Obama’s college ratings plan has little relevance to working, child-raising adults, she argues. “Their educational choices are often about convenience, geography, and access.”
Older students “may take longer to graduate” and “may need to cobble together credits from several institutions,” Cottom writes. The financial aid system should be redesigned to meet these students’ needs. They’re not “non-traditional.” They’re “typical.”