Good News for Adult Learners: Colleges GET IT!

There was a time not too long ago when colleges and universities focused all of their energies on recruiting the graduating high school senior; An 18 year old who was starting their first degree program and planned to live on campus as a full time student. All of the colleges' resources went in to putting together the best possible "campus experience," for that type of student, which included huge investments in athletic facilities, residence halls, student activities, and even dining services.

A new traditional student

Today, there is a new type of traditional student emerging: Adult learners balancing work, home, career, education and family. Adult learners are returning to school at a rapid rate. They are generally in their late 20's or older, working full time, and are looking to either finish degrees that they never completed, or start new one that will help them advance their careers. They are balancing a full plate of priorities, and are what I like to call the "NEW Traditional Student."

The emergence of the "New Traditional Student" was one of the main topics of a higher education conference a few weeks back from Tuition Advisory Services. The conference brought together over 400 academic advisors from over 150 regionally accredited colleges and universities, and my team was there to present on how colleges and universities could best serve the adult learner.

Adult learners: Rapid growth and shifting priorities

The realization is colleges and universities really do "get it."  College officials really do understand just how fast the population of adult learners is growing (The Department of Education projects that from 2010 to 2019, there will be a 23 percent rise in enrollments of students age 25 and older,) and are now focusing their efforts on finding ways to accommodate and support them. More and more, schools are putting in place programs and policies designed to assist the adult learner. They are asking themselves the exact questions that adult learners would be asking if they were considering attending that school:

  • Are college services (the bookstore, dining hall, library) open at night and on the weekends, when I have free time on my schedule?
  • Do online courses cost less than on campus courses?
  • Does my academic advisor understand that I work full time, and may need flexibility with my course sequence?
  • Can the school accommodate the requirements of my companies Tuition Assistance Program?
  • For me to attend orientation, I have to take a day off from work. Is there an online or weekend orientation that will get me ready to start a program?
  • Are there scholarships for adult learners?

Accommodating the adult learner

It was fascinating to hear at the conference what colleges and universities are doing to accommodate the adult learner. They are creating flexible programs that meet the needs of full students working full time, and juggling full plates. Campus offices are staying open later, courses times are being shuffled around, and advisors are adjusting their practices to work around the schedules of adult learners. So while a lot is still being done to support the needs of the 18 year old student leaving home for the first time for college, there is just as much working being done for the 35 year old that is just looking to get back home after class.

If you are an adult learner enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program, what does your school do to accommodate your busy schedule? Does your school "get it?"
Bright Horizons
About the Author
Bright Horizons
Bright Horizons
In 1986, our founders saw that child care was an enormous obstacle for working parents. On-site centers became one way we responded to help employees – and organizations -- work better. Today we offer child care, elder care, and help for education and careers -- tools used by more than 1,000 of the world’s top employers and that power many of the world's best brands

Subscribe to the On the Horizon Newsletter