- The familiar gaps in services for nontraditional students — from emotional and academic support to pathways to a new career — can and should be closed for the benefit of these students and the institutions that increasingly rely on their attendance, a new report recommends.
- The 13 strategies educational consulting firm EAB suggests community colleges employ to help retain adult learners in a strong economy apply to any institution looking to support this group. The report calls them "post-traditional learners" and defines them as the 85% of college students who aren't 17-to-21-year-olds attending four-year colleges and living on campus.
- These students tend to have high levels of financial need and schedules that conflict with traditional higher ed. Especially in a strong job market, community colleges must do more to show how their offerings can accommodate and benefit these students, the authors note.
The EAB report shares strategies that often feature in discussions about efforts to attract and retain those 85% of students.
They include self-directed early career assessments ahead of the first in-person advising appointment in order to maximize the benefit of that meeting. More data about academic choices and career prospects should also be provided before students begin their coursework to reduce the risk of having to pay for excess credits should they change their mind, the authors note.
Making academic and student services available at times and venues convenient for off-campus students is also important — and is something more colleges are seeing the need to do. Offering evening or weekend classes is another recommendation. The report cites Odessa College, in Texas, for its weekend program, complete with academic and financial advising, that allows students to graduate in two years.
Connections to the workforce are also critical, the report notes.
Recommendations include offering Federal Work-Study postings in jobs relevant to students' coursework, industry-based apprenticeships and career preparation workshops. Incorporating professional skills training into the curriculum and offering stackable credentials that students can use to improve their employment prospects while en route to a full degree are other ways institutions can show their value to these students.
In a separate report this month, EAB listed several reasons besides cost as to why some 41% of students who begin college in pursuit of a bachelor's degree don't graduate. Among them, the need to work, uncertainty around credit requirements for financial aid, losing credits to transfers or time to remedial classes, and the broader issue of navigating higher ed's "hidden curriculum."
All colleges, particularly two-year institutions, are seeing the need to address these issues as more postsecondary students fall into EAB's "post-traditional" category, seeking to balance work and academic obligations whether it's their first time in college or they are returning to earn another credential.