Who is an adult student these days? Featured

8:58am EDT November 1, 2005
What image do you have of a college student? Do you envision an 18-year-old who goes to college full-time and lives on campus?

In today’s world, the 18- to 23-year-old residential full-time college student does not completely reflect reality. As the U.S. economy becomes more information-driven, more adults ages 25 and up are finding that a college degree is becoming an increasingly necessary credential in the marketplace for upward mobility or career change.

The need to demonstrate a capacity for lifelong learning to employers is changing the picture of the undergraduate student on campuses across America.

Adult students fit into a category referred to as nontraditional among education professionals. The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) and the National Center for Education statistics (NCES ) have identified seven characteristics that typically define nontraditional adult students.

  • They have delayed enrollment into postsecondary education

  • They attend part-time

  • They are financially independent of parents

  • They work full-time while enrolled

  • They have dependents other than a spouse

  • They are single parents

  • They lack a standard high school diploma

According to NCES, more than 60 percent of the students pursuing higher education degrees are nontraditional when held against these criteria. Statistics show that students 25 years and older make up about 43 percent of the enrollment at institutions of higher learning across the country.

If you fit this definition, what characteristics should you look for in an institution of higher learning?

CAEL collaborated with the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC) to conduct a study of six colleges and universities focused on serving the adult learner. They developed a set of principles of effectiveness for serving adult learners, which describe processes and approaches that should be adopted by colleges seeking to improve access to and the quality of education for adult students.

These principles include:

  • Outreach. Overcoming barriers of time, place and tradition to create access.

  • Life and career planning. Assistance with assessing and aligning student life and career goals before or at the onset of enrollment to help learners reach their goals.

  • Financing. An available array of payment options that give a student flexibility.

  • Assessment of learning outcomes. Knowledge, skills and competencies acquired from curriculum and life/work experience are assessed to assign academic credit.

  • Teaching-learning processes. Faculty uses multiple methods of instruction to connect concepts to knowledge and skills.

  • Student support systems. Comprehensive academic and student support services are available.

  • Technology. Information technology is used to enhance instruction and convey timely information.

  • Strategic partnerships. Partnerships with employers and other organizations are in place to develop and improve learning opportunities.

It is important for adult students to use these principles as they select a place to begin or continue their undergraduate education. As you consider your goals, schedule and learning style as well as the skills, knowledge and competencies that you want to acquire, take the time to investigate your options among institutions of higher learning.

Remember, it is never too late to start, and you are not alone. Between 1985 and 1996, there was a 65 percent increase in the number of students 35 and older who enrolled in college (Source: NCES).

For more information about these principles, visit www.cael.org, http://www.cael.org/publications_research_whitepapers.htm

Maggie Davis, M.Ed, is the director of the Career and Experiential Education Center at the College of Mount St. Joseph, where she oversees career development, cooperative education, service learning and credit for experiential learning programs. Reach Davis at (513) 244-4824 or Maggie_davis@mail.msj.edu.