Higher ed ignores adult students’ needs

Colleges and universities are designed for 18-year-old full-time students, who represent a small minority of postsecondary enrollment, writes Rick Hess in Education Week. Higher education needs to meet the needs of adult, nontraditional students.

The traditional college student — a recent high school graduate living on campus at a four-year institution — isn’t the norm, he writes.  Only 15 percent of undergraduates fit that model, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.  Forty-three percent of undergrads attend two-year institutions, 37 percent are enrolled part-time and 32 percent work full-time.

More and more adults are enrolling: 38 percent of undergraduates are over 25 and one quarter are over 30.

The vast majority of community colleges adhere to a semester system that works well for 19-year-olds used to the rhythms of high school, but that’s hugely frustrating for workers whose schedule may not fit the academic calendar (or unemployed workers trying to get retrained in a hurry).

. . . Intriguingly, there are some colleges–especially for-profits–that have made greater efforts to fundamentally refashion their programs around the needs of adult students. What’s that entail? Ensuring that new courses are starting continuously, not just in September and January. Hiring practicing professionals to teach, when appropriate. Investing in high-quality syllabi and assessments, and ensuring that faculty are prepared and willing to use them.

Providing accessible, high-quality job training — and helping adults find the best programs — is essential for workers and their communities, Hess writes.

“Too many colleges are chasing after a shrinking pool of 18-year-olds” and ignoring older students, writes Jeffrey Selingo in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

By one estimate, a lack of skilled labor is keeping three million jobs unfilled. Indeed, the work-force needs that most worry high-tech companies are not the high-end jobs in engineering, design, and technology, but the manufacturing jobs that today require a specialized education. “We can secure all the grads we need from elite schools,” said Thomas Bowler, a senior vice president at United Technologies. “That’s not a challenge. It’s the other half of the work force that I worry about.” He sees a wave of retirements coming in manufacturing without a pipeline of highly skilled workers to replace them.

“Employers like United Technologies need . . . the designer from a liberal-arts college and the line worker with a certificate from a two-year institution,” Selingo writes.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON October 10, 2011

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[…] students are recent high school graduates living on campus.  Colleges and universities must focus on the needs of adult students, who urgently need job training, but don’t need professors with PhDs teaching on the […]

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