Non-Traditional Students: Understanding Adult Learners’ Needs

Students dropout of college for a variety of reasons – some are not ready for the academic rigors, while others leave to raise a family, get a job, or join the military. Many of these students are now in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They’re more mature, and they’re ready to come back and finish what they started. Is your school truly committed to do what it takes to attract and support these students through degree completion?

The adult degree completion market offers a growing and potentially lucrative opportunity for higher education institutions nationally. According to Dr. Bruce Chaloux, president of the Sloan Consortium, there are more than 50 million working age adults with some college credit but no degree, or who have a high school diploma but never entered college.

During the recent online video seminar Effective Strategies for the Adult Degree Completion Market, Chaloux pointed out that many of these adults would like to get their college degrees, but only if they’re given practical “adult friendly” alternatives to traditional, campus-based programs.

The eight key factors that influence an adult learner’s decision to attend college are:

  • Convenient time and place for classes
  • Flexible pacing for completing the program
  • Ability to transfer credits
  • Reputation of institution as being adult friendly
  • Need the degree for current or future job
  • Receive credit for life/work experiences
  • Financial aid or employer assistance
  • Child care

How well you can meet these needs, and provide adults with the flexibility and support they require to complete their degrees will determine how successful your institution is in serving this growing student population. Not surprisingly, online or blended courses are particularly attractive to adults who are often juggling family and work responsibilities along with their coursework.

Chaloux shared with attendees a set of guiding principles developed by the Southern Regional Education Board of the factors it believes are essential to meet the needs of the adult degree completion population:

  • Online or blended delivery
  • Accelerated (or compressed) terms
  • Adult friendly policies
  • Supportive credit transfer and prior learning assessment

“These are the kinds of strategies that have proven, at least in the short run, to be quite effective at not only attracting the adults back to your campus but in getting them to degree completion,” says Chaloux. “Essentially what we are arguing is that you need to create greater pathways to degrees and provide some form of hope that they can complete their degree in a reasonable amount of time.”