Mincing Words: Nontraditional is the new traditional
1. new and different from an established norm, custom, or method.
In higher ed enrollment lingo, nontraditional students are typically defined as being either a part-time student, one who works full-time or is considered financially independent, has dependents, is a single parent, or has delayed enrollment into postsecondary education for any reason.
But nontraditional is the new traditional in 2017.
In the 2011-2012 school year, 74% of students had at least one of these characteristics, meaning there are more nontraditional students than traditional on college campuses by far. And that figure has risen since then.
Why, then, do we continue to use the term “nontraditional,” and why have college administrators been so slow to adapt to accommodate these students? The industry, by all accounts, has always been slow moving — on everything. But when three-fourths of your consumer base falls outside of the demographics you consider your target marketing it would seem you’ve missed the mark on forecasting and audience analysis.
And no matter how many datasets are released which speak to this change, administrators are broadly still failing to find ways to either better adapt the campus experience for those who do not live on campus or make it fully accessible to students who don’t fit the traditional mold.
Things like increasing the reliance on adjunct faculty who cannot afford to spend long hours on campus or host evening office hours because they likely have to rush over to another campus are terribly detrimental to adult learners who may have to tend to jobs and families. Full-time faculty members can afford to be more flexible in their availability, but in 2015, nearly half of all professors across the country were part-time, and we know that the major research institutions heavily skew this percentage — for most of higher ed, that number is way higher.
University administrators can little afford to keep cutting corners on one end of the balance sheet — especially not an end like the quality of the educational product, which is the only marketable product the industry has — and expect to attract enough customers to keep the other end afloat.
With conversations about affordability taking centerstage for both Democrats and Republicans, the industry has to find a way to cut the excess while still maintaining a quality product. Investing in faculty is not the excess. Duplicative procurement processes, a lack of collaboration between departments and inefficient technological processes are the excess.
Instead of focusing on campus amenities, administrators should pay greater attention to employability and social mobility metrics surrounding their campuses to ensure they’re providing the best value for students whose primary objective in 2017 is less to be the world’s greatest liberal thinkers and more to be well-paid employees of companies which can offer job security and an improved financial condition.
This column represents the first in our Mincing Words column, which will run on the fifth Friday of the month when appropriate and explore nuances of popular higher ed lingo.
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