Adult learners in higher education face issues and obstacles traditional students don’t. While the traditional right-out-of-high-school students devote time to class attendance and studying, with maybe a part-time job thrown in, the adult learner enrolled in classes needs to divide time between social, family, career and education responsibilities.
The Time Crunch
Managing the time element of higher education is among the top two concerns of adult learners engaged in higher education pursuits, according to a Public Agenda Report “Is College Worth it For Me?” (http://kresge.org/sites/default/files/Is-College-Worth-It-For-Me-Public-Agenda-2013.pdf ) The percentage of adult learners who worried about how to add education into already busy schedules was equal to the 67 percent of people who worried about taking on the financial burden of college. Adult learners recognized that decisions about how to allocate time affect more than the just the student. Adult students who have dependent care responsibilities, especially those with children, worry that time for classes and study will take away time from their family. And they worry that time spent with their family is time that they should be studying. Additionally a part- or full-time job often leaves little time for attending classes or study, and time spent on school work might impact job performance.
Assess the Situation Realistically
There is no easy solution or set of steps to solving this issue. Perhaps a better plan is to view the situation through a different lens. Instead of seeing time as a problem focus on these ideas:
Define the motivation behind the decision to pursue education. Is the desired outcome to get a better job, or advance in a current position? Is it for personal benefit?
“Education Pays” a publication of the College Board states that “during a 40-year full-time working life, the median earnings of bachelor’s degree recipients without an advanced degree are 65 percent higher than the median earnings of high school graduates.” In addition to dollar value, the report shows that higher education adds stability to a career. The 2012 unemployment rate for four-year college graduates ages 25 to 34 was 7.1 percent lower than that of high school graduates. Even for those with associate’s degrees or some college but no degree the unemployment rate was 4 percent and 1.6 percent lower than those with just a high school diploma.
For those returning to higher education for reasons of personal fulfillment statistics show that personal satisfaction increases with levels of education. College graduates enjoy better health, are more engaged in civic and volunteer activities and report higher job satisfaction. Higher education affects all stakeholders: students, family, and employers. Understanding the motivation behind the additional responsibilities can reduce the pressure to set unrealistic time goals.
Realize that the paradigm of the adult learner with job commitments and family responsibilities is the “new normal.” Statistics from the College Board show that 38 percent of higher education students are over the age of 25 and one-quarter are over the age of 30. Additionally 37 percent of undergraduates are enrolled part-time and 32 percent work full-time. Adult learners should not be discouraged by a degree plan that takes longer than four years with time constraints like these. Of adult learners enrolled in a four-year institution, only 36 percent actually graduate in four years.
Higher education institutions are increasingly recognizing the needs of adult learners. Just as non-traditional ways of earning credits can save students money, they also can shorten the time engaged in education. Many adults need alternatives to in-person, on-campus classes that meet several times per week. For these people online courses offer flexibility rather than a rigid schedule that requires their presence at a specific time and place. Students can view lectures at a time that fits their schedule and participate via online discussion and chats.
The National Center for Education Statistics, reported in 2008 that at least two-thirds of two-year and four-year schools offered online courses and blended/hybrid courses, and that has a large impact. In 2013, 7.1 million students took at least one course online according to Babson Survey Research Group.
Academic advisors are an important factor in helping adult learners find and use all available time-saving options. They can steer students toward tutoring or workshops for additional help, and determine what previous credits may be able to transfer to move students ahead, including military service and prior work experience.
All students face challenges and obstacles, and a high level of engagement is crucial to completing higher education. Adult learners are embarking on a plan that will enrich lives and they must consider what changes they are willing to make to complete their plan. The growing number of adults in higher education demonstrates that the challenges are not necessarily insurmountable.
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