Nontraditional Students Forcing Colleges to Change

By Chris Hassan
Posted December 18, 2012 10:00 AM

Colleges changing to meet adult students' demands.
Colleges changing to meet adult students' demands.
Whether students attend a small community college or a major university, it is not uncommon for them to share a classroom with one or more adult learners. New data indicates this is a nationwide trend.

For example, the National Center for Education Statistics states that the number of students over the age of 25 who were enrolled in college increased by 42% between 2000 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2020, enrollment for this group is projected to rise 20%. With so many nontraditional students looking to earn associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees, many colleges and universities are realizing they are not equipped to handle the needs of adult degree seekers.

Iowa Institutions Evolve to Cater to Nontraditional Students

In the eight years adult admission adviser Mark Ash has been working at Iowa's Kirkwood Community College, he has seen the number of older learners increase, The Gazette reports. At the outset of his Kirkwood career, Ash said one in four students was considered to be nontraditional. Today, one in three degree seekers are nontraditional learners.

With so many adults interested in advancing their education, Kirkwood and several other Iowa institutions are currently rethinking their approach to meeting nontraditional learners' academic needs. Mount Mercy University is one school that not only caters to adult learners, but understands the challenges they face.

"It’s not fair to expect an adult student who works to come to class during the day," Colette Atkins, Mount Mercy's assistant dean of accelerated programs, told The Gazette. "It’s not fair to expect them to sit in class for a semester at a time to complete course work when they are working and raising children."

If this was the case, Atkins said it would take nontraditional students 15 years to complete a bachelor's degree, which would simply be an "unreasonable challenge."

Many Adult Students Cost Florida Institutions More Money

For many adults, returning to school after a long absence from academia means refreshing basic skills in subjects like writing and mathematics before proceeding to collegiate-level courses. In the case of Florida, remedial education costs are as high as $168 million, StateImpact Florida reports. This is due to the high volume of students who need to take remedial classes at the Sunshine State's 28 community and state colleges.

While many adults have a desire to advance their education, a number of them realize that their essential skills have deteriorated to the point that remedial classes are a necessity. This is just one more thing higher education officials need to understand if they are to help nontraditional learners succeed.

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