According to a 2002 report by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, only 27 percent of college students fall within the 18- to 22-year-old age range. Today’s typical college student was considered “nontraditional” just a decade ago.
Now, students are more inclined to concern themselves with their next career move, paying the mortgage and coordinating transportation for their children, rather than with campus life and full-time classes.
This trend has two important implications for the future of post-secondary education. Since the overwhelming majority of college students today are people who must incorporate education into an already hectic life, classes must be scheduled during times or through modalities that are convenient and effective for the adult learner.
As a result, there has been an explosion of programs with evening, weekend, and online courses. And working adults, with their years of experience, tend to be more savvy consumers of education. They are more demanding of service, curriculum and instruction than the “traditional” college student.
These students generally require a different approach to education. So the trend toward an increasing number of working adult students in college classrooms has encouraged another trend, an increasing number of working adults to instruct them.
While the academic background of every faculty member is fundamentally important, it’s just as important for universities to stress the need for professionals to serve as facilitators in their classrooms. Practitioners with the appropriate academic credentials can offer expertise according to their experience, while allowing for more peer-to-peer learning.
The marriage of theory and practice
In nontraditional programs, the face of faculty is continuing to change dramatically. A growing number of faculty are not full-time employees for whom teaching is a primary occupation. Instead, they are practitioners who have advanced academic preparation in their fields and significant practical experience.
This blend enables them to credibly facilitate the marriage of theory and practice in the classroom. As professionals and instructors, they work with students to develop knowledge, skills and perspective relevant to the workplace.
Faculty are also lecturing less these days. They have the authority to present a lesson, but they realize that a top-down approach to education simply won’t work when they may be sharing their classroom with a student or two more experienced than they are in a specific area. Instead, instructors introduce the subject and engage students in a discussion in which topics are debated and challenged.
The most effective way to educate working adults is through enlisting local professionals who have both the academic preparation necessary to teach discipline-specific theory and the practical experience to render it useful. They are accomplished managers, executives and practitioners with the academic background and skills necessary to help their students achieve.
Give back to your community through education
As a business professional, you may think being a part-time member of the faculty at a local university isn’t manageable while maintaining your career, but it may be more manageable than you think.
No longer are faculty required to physically attend classes five days a week, as universities begin to offer more online courses and alternative classroom schedules. Instead of five daytime meetings in a lecture hall, you might find yourself in class one night a week or asynchronously five nights at home, facilitating over the Internet.
Applying for faculty positions varies depending on the institution. At the University of Phoenix, faculty must have a master’s degree or doctorate and must successfully complete a rigorous assessment and certification process before they submit course applications. We are obligated to provide our students with faculty who possess a passion for their careers on the job and in the classroom.
Businesses should encourage staff to seek part-time teaching opportunities at local colleges. It benefits the company when staff has an avenue to increase knowledge through teaching, gain credibility through an affiliation with a university and network to build relationships with potential future business partners.
As an educator, I encourage you to take a moment and explore how teaching can benefit you personally and professionally. While your intention may be to share your knowledge, you might be surprised at how much you learn from the experience, as well.
Eric Ziehlke is associate campus director for the University of Phoenix-Columbus Campus. The University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university, with more than 200,000 students at more than 140 campuses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Reach him at (614) 433-0095 or [email protected]