College isn’t just for the young. Unlock the potential of millions of working adults with these three strategies.
Sometimes, life gets in the way of completing college. A serious illness, an unexpected baby, the loss of financial aid — there are countless reasons why a student might fail to complete the degree program she set out to achieve. That is why there are roughly 37 million people with some college credits but no degrees in the U.S.
Each year, millions of people return to college with the goal of getting their credentials. Some are looking to advance in their current careers or head in an exciting new direction. Others want to fulfill promises they made to themselves or want to be good role models for their children.
Whatever the motivation, most returning students don’t make it to the finish line. Only about one-third of non-first-time students end up completing their degrees. With projections indicating that 65% of U.S. jobs will soon require postsecondary education, this poses a huge problem for our citizens and our economy.
Improving College Graduation Rates for Working Adult Students
There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about how to make America great. And improving completion rates for returning students is one critical step toward national prosperity.
To do that, we must meet these students halfway and make it possible for them to quickly earn an affordable degree. The best bet for your institution to help adult students along this path is to offer more personalized and accelerated pathways to postsecondary credentials.
The process doesn’t have to be difficult or prohibitively expensive. Here are a few basic steps:
1. Help students maximize their incoming credits.
The shorter the path from enrollment to completion, the more likely students are to finish their degree programs. This is especially true for those who typically attend classes part-time while balancing jobs, families, and other personal commitments.
One way to shorten the path is to make sure students get full credit for prior learning, leaving the number of credits needed to complete their credentials as small as possible. Studies show that graduation rates for students who received credit for prior learning are actually 2.5 times higher. What’s more, the practice of assessing prior credit benefits students, institutions, and society in other ways.
Many organizations — including the American Council on Education, the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, and the College Board — offer resources for institutions seeking to enhance their policies and programs around credit for prior learning. A key challenge is to make students aware of assessment options. To that end, ACE, for example, provides links to institutional websites to use as models of how this can be done effectively.
2. Enable progress based on demonstrated competency.
Each student learns at a different pace. Basing students’ progression on “seat time” — or the number of hours a student spends in class — results in some students being frustrated by the slow pace while others are pushed forward before they’ve fully absorbed the material.
Programs serving working adults are moving to a more competency-based approach, in which students move forward when they demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the material through examinations and other forms of assessment. This empowers them to take control of their own learning path.
In fact, as many as 600 colleges — up from around 50 in 2014 — have launched or are planning to launch competency-based education programs. The U.S. Department of Education supports these efforts, and at least 10 states have enacted CBE-related legislation. For institutions not already on the CBE bandwagon, a recent report from Public Agenda takes a thorough look at the issue from a variety of viewpoints. Also worth reading is a report from Young Invincibles, which provides valuable student perspectives on CBE.
3. Provide “mass-personalized” support.
Every student faces different challenges, but for working adults returning to school, those typically come in the form of competing demands for their time. Personalized support not only helps get more adults back into school, but also helps them persist and make it to graduation.
Providing individually tailored support can be pricey if not done right. So it’s important to establish a framework and supporting infrastructure that enable student support efforts to be truly personalized at scale.
By combining highly trained professionals, analytics, technology, and the right pedagogy, it is possible to meet each student right where she is and provide the support she needs right at that moment. Many resources exist to help institutions establish and improve this process, including on-demand webinars, online chat, mentorship programs, and more.
Beyond the impact completing college has on individuals and their families, there are many compelling reasons for boosting the graduation rates of working adult students.
For one, college graduates are more likely to be employed and pay taxes and are less likely to require government services. Graduates have lower overall healthcare expenditures and incarceration rates, do more volunteer work, participate more in civic and community organizations, and vote more often than people without college degrees.
We owe it to both current and future generations to streamline the path to obtaining college credentials. By shortening that path and making it more personalized, we can unlock the potential in millions more Americans every year.
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Pete Wheelan, CEO of InsideTrack, has dedicated his career to leading mission-driven, high-growth companies focused on helping individuals live up to their full potential. Before joining InsideTrack, he served as chief operating officer and chief revenue officer at Blurb, a groundbreaking leader in unleashing creative expression through self-published books.