- A new higher education advocacy group — Higher Learning Advocates — has emerged to specifically focus on nontraditional students and federal education policies addressing them.
- Among some of the concerns cited by the group at its first public event is tuition affordability for older students that don't qualify for scholarship, but are working full-time and raising families — recommending federal financial aid standards to address that.
- With federal statistics showing 75% of U.S. college students did not begin their higher education directly out of high school and nearly half of them are over 25, with the number expected to grow, nontraditional student advocates argue institutions ought to reconsider their business models to be more flexible.
Colorado State University-Global Provost Jon Bellum said in a recent interview with Education Dive that both college and business leaders need to develop better ways to reach the nontraditional student. At CSU-Global, for instance, the typical student is about 35, married with kids and often working full time. Saying nontraditional students sacrifice to make college work, Bellum encouraged schools to make efforts to “give older students an efficient and fulfilling way to earn a degree.” “It’s not easy for them to find three hours in an evening to attend classes at a physical college building,” says Bellum, demonstrating why federal standards ought to address a new type of student. “With work and kids, online courses give them a pathway to a degree. We find many of our students are working online from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.”
Institutions seeing the need to address the rising enrollment of older, nontraditional students can take steps to offer more flexible learning options. But what might be even more helpful is listening to the concerns and suggestions of education advocacy groups like the one that just formed to see what types of concrete changes are actually going to be most helpful, because whether leaders like it or not — nontraditional is becoming the new traditional. Instead of focusing on campus amenities, administrators ought to consider employability and social mobility metrics surrounding their campuses to ensure significant ROI for those that are already in the world of work.
Additionally, schools can develop partnerships with businesses to help workers go back to school and achieve a degree. For instance, if a business owner knows his or her company needs information technology specialists, they can “grow their own” by partnering with a college to provide training. Businesses also could consider working with post-secondary schools to see if professional development within their own organization could be considered college level and used for college credit. CSU-Global, for instance, worked with a healthcare company that did extensive customer-service training, and allowed that training to be used toward a bachelor’s degree. Schools and businesses need to get creative to find ways to close skills gaps, he said, noting that by 2020, about 65% of jobs will require at least some post-high school education.