4 Tips for College Leaders to Target Adult Education

The demographics for colleges are changing. Adult learners, typically 25 years and older, need courses and college programs that fit their lifestyles and needs. Students want to complete their degrees. They put them on hold because of life commitments, such as starting a family or serving in the military. College leaders, states, and non-profit programs understand this ongoing situation. A need exists to upskill workers quickly. A new training or certification helps workers to obtain new jobs or to improve their abilities for their current employment. These four tips target how college leaders could create or improve the offerings and services for adult education seekers.


1.) College Leaders Create Clear Goals and Collaborate for Adult Education

Besides that, college leaders collaborate with local and state organizations to address the needs of adult education students. For example, My Future NC, a non-profit developed the Project Kitty Hawk program in North Carolina. By 2030, the goal focuses on providing “a high-quality credential or postsecondary degree” to 2 million NC residents. The organization found that nearly 2 million North Carolinians did not complete their degrees. Additionally, they noticed that many NC residents turned to out-of-state programs for their short-term educational needs. Therefore, other college leaders could connect with state agencies and programs to develop similar initiatives. By analyzing the market, leaders could revise programs to target adult learners and address their needs. Setting clear goals will help them achieve this objective.


2.) Understand Learners Seek Career Advancement and Entry for Adult Education

College leaders understand how adult learners want to advance their careers. The Great Resignation illustrated that US workers seek better jobs and better pay. Adult learners want to quickly qualify for a new job or upskill for their current employment. Additionally, many students want to enter a career field, but they lack the skills and experience. Often, they are low-wage earners, first-generation, rural, and DEI students. Adult learners are time-bound. Traditional college programs lack the benefits for them to graduate and find a better-paying job. Thus, college leaders redesign the curriculum. By revisioning their educational offerings, higher-ed can retrofit a program, targeting various adult learners, helping them advance in their careers.


3.) College Leaders Vary and Create Different Modes of Instruction

Colleges leaders can strategize about the different ways to teach for adult education. For example, cohort programs could be implemented. With a cohort, students intentionally start with the same group of students. Also, the class sizes remain small like around 50 people. The cohort benefits are socialization, community, and student bonds. Leaders could design the cohort programs for part-time students too. Secondly, short-time, mini-pathway, and non-degree options provide adult learners ways to quickly complete courses. Thus, instead of the traditional semester program, leaders might create an 8-week program for a certification or as one step for a mini-pathway. Many college leaders are considering competency-based instruction (CBE) because it focuses on mastery. Students take a PLA (prior learning assessments), so they can move to the next class or subject and finish the course quickly. Curriculum leaders should also add options to pause and restart a program because adult learners need flexibility.


4.) Embed Services and Support Beyond the Traditional Student for Adult Education

Thus, adult learners need support to complete educational programs. These students work and maintain families. College leaders can create multifaceted support services. The single mother or single dad needs childcare. A returning student who has not written a paper in over ten years needs 24 hours access to tutoring. Learners may need technical help to use MS Word. Besides that, colleges leaders could add services like intrusive counseling. The counselor checks in with a student rather than the student that checks in with a counselor. The service helps retain students like adult learners, so they won’t abandon a program. Also, higher-ed leaders can create wrap-around services, which cover food insecurity, books fees, counseling, internet access, and tutoring in one package. By providing support, college leaders direct their institutions to be student-ready rather than focusing on college-ready students.


Summing up, college leaders help adult learners by understanding their various characteristics and needs. Workers, these adult learners seek to skill up quickly to maintain their current jobs or find new ones. They want to complete degrees or programs that they could not complete previously because of life obligations. College leaders meet their needs by creating versatile programs like using mini-pathways or CBE. Wrap-around services help adult learners successfully start and complete programs.


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