According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 62 percent of undergraduate students, described as the “new normal,” have at least one nontraditional characteristic such as being a first-generation student, having at least one dependent, or working either full or part time. As leaders in higher education modeling and delivery, we must foster flexible structures that expand access to higher education for the 31 million Americans who have some college credit but no degree. At Arizona State University (ASU), we’re exploring new pathways to reach the changing demographics of today’s students.
One thing we know for certain is that we cannot address this need by solely focusing on the traditional pool of undergraduate and masters-level students. The profile of today’s college student has changed, with fewer students fitting the mold of “traditional.”
Online learning reaches many more students
Online learning has become a promising pathway allowing for greater scale where students can design a path that fits their lifestyle. A recent study found that the number of students taking online courses grew to over 6.3 million students in the U.S., and that number continues to rise.
At ASU Online, we recognize that the demographics of adult learners are heterogeneous, and we are reaching out to previously underserved populations of learners with programs that do not require presence inside a classroom or at a particular time. Our programs continue to see significant growth; last August, more than 30,000 students were enrolled in 170 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
Related: 3 ways to actually support nontraditional learners
More degree specializations are now available as universities expand to meet the evolving needs of students. Virtual reality tools enabling completion of lab sciences courses anywhere in the world will be available soon, and adaptive-learning technology is changing the way faculty and instructional designers create courses and evolve the learning process. Research arms like The Action Lab, a dedicated teaching and learning laboratory within EdPlus at ASU, are studying the impact of these tools on student success to achieve better learning outcomes. We are finding that online education is as rigorous and effective as face-to-face learning.