an adult student with a graduation cap on

How to reach adult students online

A look at how the University of Memphis is making its LiFE program successful

In a public-private partnership that could signal the future of higher education, the University of Memphis has teamed up with FedEx Express on a new initiative that will give more than 11,000 FedEx employees the opportunity to earn a tuition-free degree from UofM Global, the university’s online learning program.

All employees who work at the FedEx Memphis World Hub are eligible to participate in the “Learning inspired by FedEx” (LiFE) program as long as they remain in good academic standing. Employees can choose from among more than 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered by UofM Global, and FedEx will pay the full cost of tuition.

The program is a “win-win-win” for everyone involved, advocates say. Employees have an opportunity to advance their education (and possibly their careers), while the company inspires loyalty among its workers, which should result in higher retention—and the university adds a major new source of tuition revenue.

Related: Are you reaching the “new normal” student?

Richard Irwin, dean of UofM Global, says he believes the future of higher education depends on how well colleges and universities can serve adult students who are returning to school. Toward this end, UofM Global offers a number of resources designed specifically to support returning adult students and ensure their success—and the LiFE program can serve as a model for other institutions to follow.

5 key lessons to better serve adults students online

1. Assess students’ readiness for online learning.
Before adult students begin their courses, UofM Global measures their readiness for online learning through an initiative called Smart Start. It’s a home-grown assessment that takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete, and it asks students about their technical knowledge, what type of device they’ll be using, whether they have Wi-Fi access at home, and when they plan to complete their course work, among other questions.

The goal is to make sure students have the tools they’ll need to succeed in an online learning environment, Irwin explains—and to provide interventions for students who might lack the capacity to be successful.

For instance, “If students don’t have a device of their own, or they need to travel to a location where they can get Wi-Fi, we have a bank of iPads and remote hotspots donated by FedEx that we can lend to them,” he says.

2. Give students the skills they’ll need for success.
Another initiative designed to prepare adult students more effectively for online learning is an onboarding process called the Prep Academy. Designed specifically for students in the LiFE program, it’s a series of four initial courses that students can work through at their own pace, covering topics such as academic strategies, time management, self-discipline, and other skills needed for success.

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