The rapid convergence of information and technology, the increased move towards automation and AI, and the changes in employment opportunities and environment caused by the pandemic have all accelerated the need for working adults who have some college credit but have not completed a degree to gain additional credentials.
While universities may well view these potential students as an attractive demographic to pursue–especially as they struggle with decreases in the “traditional” student population–there are specific aspects of difference that must be kept in mind if the needs of returning adult learners are to be met adequately, absent which these students are unlikely to attend public universities.
1. Recognize that they are different from “traditional” students
It is crucial that we recognize that adult learners, and especially those returning to gain a degree after years of experience in the workforce, have different needs and expectations from an 18-year-old. Their time is valuable; they come with tremendous real-world experience that is equivalent to, and often exceeds, a lot of coursework. Their expectations regarding the value proposition of time spent in gaining knowledge are justifiably high.
Unlike the 18-year-old in awe of an older instructor, these students are not overcome by titles and qualifications but come expecting the development of skills and talent, and the acquisition of knowledge, that will help them break through the glass barrier created by their lack of degree or accelerate their professional advancement by use of new knowledge.
These differences need to be recognized and addressed as related to the overall student experience.