Flexibility in education Featured

7:00pm EDT March 29, 2006
Working people — whether returning to the classroom or taking their first foray into higher learning - have a unique set of expectations and needs. They have more complex responsibilities than traditional students. Jobs, families, mortgages and a range of personal and social obligations all affect their ability to achieve higher education goals.

In response, colleges and universities have developed more flexible education systems that let students pursue higher learning without putting their work and personal lives on hold, says Elden Monday, state vice president for University of Phoenix local campuses in Pennsylvania.

Smart Business spoke with Monday about how businesses and educational institutions can work together to create a flexible environment that helps working people maximize success in both the classroom and the boardroom.


How has the higher education community begun to accommodate students who work while attending college?


Colleges and universities have become more aware that students and their employers need to have programs available that allow workers to stop and start the learning process when their personal or professional life demands it, and to continue with course work despite travel schedules or transfers to new locations.

Today there are more programs offered in the evenings and on weekends, but the biggest change has been the broad acceptance of online learning. Many programs combine classroom and online learning, offering the best of both worlds to accommodate a wider range of learning styles and schedules. This is a positive evolution, placing the focus on what students need rather than what is convenient or traditional for the institution.


What other measures are schools taking to make higher education more attainable for working people?


Flexible scheduling is a key factor, but this means more than offering a smattering of evening classes. Truly flexible course schedules allow students to choose the time of day and even day of the week they’ll dedicate to class time, whether they’re attending courses at a university campus, or working from their computer at home once the kids are in bed.

Simulations are being incorporated into curriculum to appeal to visual learners, and a wide range of electronic tools and resources are becoming available as well, such as e-books, virtual libraries and online tutorial programs.


Have employers caught on to the increasing flexibility that is available?


Not all corporate executives realize the extent to which the higher education environment is evolving. But most understand the importance of lifelong learning, and they do encourage their employees to further their education. It’s probably the best investment a person can make in terms of earning power, job satisfaction and upward mobility.

Simply having choices and flexibility in how workers accomplish their classes is far less stressful. And while less stress can result in higher productivity, the most obvious benefit for employers is the knowledge and skills their employees will be bringing back to the workplace while they are in school. A better-educated staff is a staff that has better problem-solving skills and a better quality of production.


What factors should you consider before choosing a school that offers flexible learning options?


Most educational institutions are savvy to the needs of adult learners and offer various options to fit a range of lifestyles. That said, it is wise to thoroughly research a college or university before enrolling.

First and foremost, you should review the school’s accreditation to ensure quality standards have been applied and the credits you are earning will transfer to other reputable schools in the future. Different types of accrediting bodies accredit different types of schools, but regional accreditation is the most common when it comes to large public or private universities. The accrediting body should also be approved by the Department of Education.

Make sure you verify that the method of course delivery (e.g., in the classroom, online) and the schedule you select will be available for the duration of your program. Some programs may appear to be flexible, but require certain courses to be taken on campus during traditional business hours. It is also important to find out when faculty are available for office hours. The more flexible programs are offering 24-hour access through e-mail, chat forums or other media.

Finally, talk to your employer, your family and your peers to get their feedback and to ask for their support. Also talk to students who are enrolled where you want to attend, to get a first-hand perspective from others with similar career goals and lifestyle demands. These discussions will give you a good idea of whether your own expectations are realistic, and how well the institution is representing itself.


ELDEN MONDAY is the state vice president for the Pennsylvania campuses of University of Phoenix, a national leader in higher education for working adults, offering both on campus and online programs. Reach Monday at Elden.monday@phoenix.edu or by phone at (610) 989-0880, ext. 1131.