Essay: Engaging Adult Students In Higher Education Using Best Practices To Meet Their Needs

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  • Published on: 14th June 2012
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Engaging Adult Students In Higher Education Using Best Practices To Meet Their Needs

This literature review investigates and outlines issues concerning adult students today. Institutions of higher education need to design and adapt their programs to attract and engage this growing population of students to meet their needs and insure their success. This paper will defines who adult students are, discusses and outline the specific needs they have in higher education programs and discusses the barriers they currently encounter. In addition, there will be discussion about best practices to consider, those currently in operation and future concerns for both students and universities. For clarification going forward, I will use the terms non-traditional student, adult student, adult learner, non-residential student and nontraditional learner interchangeably. The growth of the adult student population in higher education requires programs that address and support their specific needs.
In January 2012, I returned to JMU after leaving in May of 1982. I began to attend classes on campus in fall 2012. In one of my classes, my professor continually stressed how important it was to engage in the campus community and involved in campus organizations. He really stressed that employers like to see this quality when interviewing candidates. Of course, I began to become concerned because I was not able to do this. My commute from Waynesboro was 35 minutes away and I did not have access to the campus except when I was there for classes. Another professor recommended a Public Relations club for me to join. It is a national group with a local chapter. It would have provided great opportunities for networking and connection on campus. Nevertheless, the meeting times were not convenient to my schedule and family obligations.
Fast forward to Spring 2013. In my written Public Relations class, one of the assignments was to interview a classmate. In the interview process, I discovered that my partner happened to be the Vice President of the JMU Jump Program. This is a program where upper-class students mentor incoming transfer students to help them acclimate to the campus and James Madison University. I had never heard of the program, but when I learned more about it I emailed her and asked if the program had anything in place for ADP students or might consider adding it to their program (weren't we transfer students too?). I never got an answer. This single experience interested and inspired my investigation of this topic. Often, during the time that year I attended classes on campus, I felt very alone and isolated. I was older than all my classmates and most of my professors. I felt like the redheaded stepchild.
According to National Center for Educations Statistics, adult students, age, 25 years and older make up almost half of all enrollments in higher education today (Price & Baker, 2012). Millions of adult students are seeking degrees in a system designed largely for and around traditional students (Pusser & Breneman, 2007). The nontraditional student is the new normal.

Who Are Adult Students in Higher Education Today?
Enrollment projections by the U.S. Department of Education for 2017 indicate that enrollment of all college students is anticipated to increase to 20,800,000 students. Of that number, 8,198,000 are expected to be nontraditional college students. Institutional leaders and policy makers need to look at the unique characteristics of this group and develop strategies and policies that meet their needs (Wyatt, 2011).
There are two markets for higher education today - the residential/traditional market and the non-residential/non-traditional market. Several characteristics separate the two. They have different reasons for seeking education, they come from different backgrounds, they have different needs, and they are coming to their secondary education through different pathways (Matkin, 2004). The two most widely used characteristics that classify students are age and enrollment status. Most student populations at institutions of higher education throughout the United States classify their students this way. The traditional college student is 18-24 years old and the nontraditional student, aged 25 and above (Wyatt, 2011).
The typical undergraduate student goes to college right after high school. They attend full-time, usually live on campus and are financially dependent on their parents (Soares, 2013). The residential student also has more opportunities to work closely with faculty members. The undergraduate residential market is typically eighteen to twenty-two-year old full-time students. In addition to seeking a general education they expect to form values, gain life experience and have a college experience too (Matkin, 2004). Over the last thirty years, data indicates that the number of students fitting this model is dropping. The National Center for Education says that the nontraditional student is the fastest growing segment in higher education today. These students are age 25 and older. These students are very diverse. A report from Spaniel in 2001 indicated that this group contained approximately 43% of all college students in the nation. An increasing majority of undergraduate students on campus are non-traditional students. This fact has resulted in a need for colleges and universities to investigate this population and the various factors and attributes that distinguish them. They are determining what they need to do to serve the unique needs of non-traditional students. The importance of participation and engagement of for adult learners is being considered in student populations all over the United States (Wyatt, 2011).
The non-residential student is typically a working adult studying part-time. They have a focus on educational goals and care a great deal about the degree. They need instruction that is convenient and available to them (Matkin, 2004). These students are employees, low-income students, commuters and sometimes student parents (Soares, 2013). Non-traditional students do not live on campus and have other priorities like work and family. This limits their availability to participate in the many forms of campus activities and organizations. Institutions need to embrace the ideals that these students have of valuing family and work and assist them in making connections within their experience (Price & Baker, 2012).
The National Center of Education Statistics has expanded the definition of the non-traditional student to include:
' Most often delayed their enrollment for one or more years after high school.
' They are usually enrolled part-time
' They work full-time
' May have a spouse and dependents
' May be a single parent
' Some do not possess a high school diploma and attend after getting a GED (Wyatt, 2011)

Another distinction between the two markets is that is usually costs more to educate the residential degree student than the non-residential student. The cost of educating the residential is higher because they use more costly elements of the university's physical plant and equipment. They incur a cost for student services and elements that are important to student life. The non-residential student has no need for these services and facilities (Matkin, 2004). Adult students spend less time on campus due to their external responsibilities. Online learning allows them to keep their jobs and family responsibilities while obtaining their college education. They need the flexible schedule and low travel costs (Yoo & Huang, 2013).
Non-traditional students come with many attributes their student counterparts have not yet attained. There is evidence to support that the adult student comes to colleges and universities 'prepackaged.' They possess a greater sense of maturity, experiences, and values. They have different learning goals and bring with them their individual learning patterns, responsibilities and interests. Adult learners spend much more time on academics and subject matter. They are highly focused, serious and more motivated. Prior knowledge and work experience define this student population and age is the primary defining criteria for classifying students as traditional or non-traditional. However, one hundred years ago, non-traditional students would be classified by race, gender or socioeconomic status (Wyatt, 2011).
Age and U.S. Census Bureau numbers support the significance of nontraditional college student enrollment. In 2008, the enrollment of fulltime and part-time college students in all colleges was 18,632,000. Of that number, 3,063,000 were full time traditional students and 3,861,000 were part-time students (Wyatt, 2011).
What are specific needs of for Adults in Higher Education?
In 1984, Astin developed a theory of student involvement. He defined student involvement as 'the amount of physical and psychological energy that the student devotes to the academic experience'. He focused primarily on physical behaviors ' participating in campus organizations, interacting with faculty and peers, and attending campus events. The concept of student engagement is 'the extent to which students take part in educationally effective practices.' The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) is a measure commonly used by institutions that documents how institutions are meeting educational goals and providing a measure of student learning outcomes. This annual survey collects information from first year and graduating students regarding their undergraduate experience (Price & Baker, 2012).
Both this theory and this survey fail to address what involvement may mean to the adult learner who often commutes to campus, attends classes in the evenings and on weekends and most often works at least part-time. Nontraditional students generally have other priorities such as work and family, which limits their availability to participate.
Student engagement is viewed as an important factor that contributes to the success and well-being of students. Adult students face additional challenges, but exhibit different strengths. Universities should build on the strengths that adult students bring to their classes and work to provide them with greater opportunities to meet their peers and faculty (Kahu, Stephens, Leach, & Zepke, 2013). Colleges traditionally see student engagement as a student affairs issue. In addition, it is used by many colleges as a measure of how active or involved students are in academics and the college environment. Many student affairs personnel and college leaders, faculty and administration find increased student engagement of adult students challenging. However, it is becoming a top priority on the list of many institutions. They are beginning to increase their focus on nontraditional students to serve them (Wyatt, 2011).
Adult students need affordability and convenience to home and work. It influences their choice of programs. In the Emerging Pathways study conducted by staff at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, many students reported that acquiring knowledge was a higher priority for them than enhancing employability. This survey also suggested ways that programs could better serve this student market. Participants noted that childcare services, though often not available, would be very helpful and online learning systems were described by many as underdeveloped (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).
A number of risk factors affect adult students' success. They might be a first generation college student. They are employed part-time or full-time. Cost and the availability of financial aid could have an impact. They may have a lower socioeconomic status. They could have family obligations or be a single parent. They could also have academic challenges that need to be addressed to help them be successful. Adult learners that are at highest risk demonstrate need in four categories. They need guides and mentors, financial aid, a peer community and they need a guided and specific academic plan (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).
Some of the most compelling needs are academic preparation. Often, adult students have had a long absence from education and lack relevant study skills. I had no idea what a literature review was until I had to do one. There are also financial issues/costs that affect nontraditional students. Tuition is rising; there could be a loss of income if they go from fulltime to part-time work. Childcare costs and commuting costs are also issues of concern. One of the largest is professional and family responsibilities. Adult students have to adapt their study so that it does not interfere with job, family needs and obligations. One of the key needs of this student market is communication. Although these students may be adults, ongoing and continuous communication can help them keep up with classes and requirements of the university they are attending.
It is important for college personnel to understand that nontraditional students are always in transition. They need to become very creative in strategies that lead to successful engagement of these students in the college environment (Wyatt, 2011). Evidence gathered in the Emerging Pathways project suggest that although institutions are becoming sensitive to challenges adult learners face, their actions and strategies are not generally systematic nor do they account for the diverse needs and characteristics of this student population. The project also suggests the following to improve postsecondary education for adult learners:
' There is no 'typical' adult learner.
' The key area of adult learning is poorly understood.
' The well-worn/traditional path will not work for most adults.
' The find the right path, adult learners need a guide. (Pusser & Breneman, 2007)

Adult learners are a very diverse group, strive for different goals and are unevenly prepared to reach them. No one learner is 'typical.' They need convenience and affordability. Many are choosing nontraditional pathways such as continuing education, distance learning, and for-profit institutions. Although these pathways may be convenient, they do not guarantee success and they do not offer the full range of academic support services and programs. Student services such as counseling, financial aid, and academic advising are essential to adult student learners. They must have ready access to information and communication is something often lacking (Illuminations, 2007).
Adult students are often already in the workforce and lack a postsecondary credential. However, they are determined to pursue further knowledge and skills while balancing work, life, and education responsibilities (Price & Baker, 2012). In the United States today, student demographics for university students is changing very rapidly because of the increasing enrollment of non-traditional students. There is also an increase in the percentage of working adult students. These students have many commitments that create barriers to their success that traditional students do not have (Yoo & Huang, 2013).
Even with the importance of adult learners to American life, they are treated typically as an after-thought in higher education. The sad fact is a great number of these students are at great risk of failing to complete their classes and degrees. They struggle in the balance of between work and family commitments. They lack resources and have to adapt to a system designed to serve younger, full-time students. Programs adult learners are enrolled in often poorly document their success (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).
A difference in skills and knowledge has to affect their engagement. Many adult students have had a long absence from education and often, they have less experience with technology (Kahu, Stephens, Leach, & Zepke, 2013). Age can influence learning, although studies conducted to date indicate that it is not an effective predictor of adult students' performance. However, the same studies found that older students participate more frequently in online learning than younger ones (Yoo & Huang, 2013).
Another barrier for adult learners is that often continuing education programs do not offer credit and are not eligible for federal financial aid. Federal financial aid is linked to credit hours; non-credit courses are generally not eligible. Adult learners could be better served by federal aid policies that support both types of courses (Pusser & Breneman, 2007). There is a fundamental challenge going forward with these programs and with adapting them to the 21st century market. This market is one where a baccalaureate degree is becoming increasing vital to an individual's long-term success. To achieve this, patterns of enrollment needs to be understood in both credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing courses. These patterns can guide the creation of programs and give the learner transferrable, college-level credit and general education (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).
Another consideration that could accommodate the intermittent enrollment patterns of adult students is financial support for less than half-time courses. Half of adult learners are employed full-time and many others are supporting families. Only a small share of adult students attempt 12- to 15- hour course loads that traditional students take. With work and family responsibilities, adult students could benefit greatly from flexible financial aid and other strategies that support part-time study (Pusser & Breneman, 2007). Adult student dropout rates from online programs are significantly higher than students in on-campus programs (Yoo & Huang, 2013). 'The simple fact is that our traditional system of two-year and four-year colleges and universities with their campus-based, semester-timed, credit-hour driven model of instructional delivery is not well-suited to educate post-traditional learners.' (Soares, 2013).
Many institutions have begun to utilize the NSSE to assess engagement in an intentional way. While the results are being used more frequently for program planning and as evidence for student learning in accreditation reviews, some researchers question application of the results to certain undergraduate students (Price & Baker, 2012). Assessment of student engagement as it relates to learning outcomes often supports established definitions of campus involvement. Engagement for the non-traditional student may fall outside that which is typically defined by the academic community. Tools such as the NSSE could be considered inappropriate as a measure for the adult learner. The seven principals of good educational practice developed by Chickering and Gamson (1999) warn that an institution's capacity to show good practice depends on the student and their circumstances (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).
With the limited research that focuses specifically on student engagement of adult students, other issues on other related aspects of the student experience for adult learners and distance students, need to be considered. These are the practical barriers for adult learners such as roles and financial struggles, family commitments, emotional struggles, skills and learning styles. In addition to these practical difficulties, many adult students often have feelings of alienation and anxiety. Nontraditional learners can feel isolated in a culture that is not meeting the needs of older students. Some also have negative perceptions of themselves as learners and this can contribute to anxiety and a fear of failure (Kahu, Stephens, Leach, & Zepke, 2013).
In a report published in The Journal of Continuing Education in 2011, author Linda Wyatt reported that many non-traditional students do not consider engagement an integral part of their experience, they felt school was just another part of their very busy lives. However, some of those surveyed agree that that college experience would have been better if they would have been able to participate in activities and events that they found interesting. The primary reason given for lack of involvement is communication or the lack of it. Some students suggested that print media made available to them on a regular basis would have been helpful. In addition, nontraditional students indicated that they would consider participation in an organization that focused on students age 25 and above and not traditional students (Wyatt, 2011). Information is the key to the success of any postsecondary student. However, many adult students begin with an information deficit. Many factors contribute to the information deficit, but most institutions do not provide academic services beyond regular office hours (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).

Best Practices in Operation in Adult Degree Programs
Different approaches and creativity are necessary on college campuses to encourage and
facilitate the engagement of nontraditional students. Programs need:
' Institutional commitment.
' Faculty experienced teaching adult learns and in the ways that adult students learn.
' Staff that are understanding and treat these students with respect.
' Counselors that are trained to advise and work with adult learners.
' Programs that are flexible and take into consideration multiple constraints.
' Programs and services across campus that appeal to the nontraditional student.
' Communication on and off campus geared toward nontraditional students.
' A campus environment that encourages the nontraditional student to become engaged. (Wyatt, 2011)
Development of curriculums relies on the allocation of resources at the institution system and the state level. Policymakers at all levels are uninformed about the need to balance credit bearing and non-credit bearing courses offered for adult students and other learners. The Emerging Pathways study conducted over 1,200 surveys, interviews, site visits and case studies with leaders and college administrators of postsecondary institutions. This data revealed that 39.5 percent of the institutions surveyed are not collecting data on their non-credit bearing courses. These courses are widespread, but they may not show the impact on a public agenda that will soon demand the skills of college-educated adults. Little is known about these courses by the institutions that offer them and they need to address these concerns. Adult degree programs need supportive state and national policies that address their preparation, access, retention and success. Adult learners continue to need greater support from this community to insure their success and access to post-secondary education (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).
Many pathways are available for adult learners to earn their college degree. In the United States, online learning has been growing in higher education. Through programs online, adult learners can apply what they know to their jobs and provide them opportunities to interact with peers. The growth of this market provides financial incentives for many institutions of higher education to deliver their degree programs online. Many institutions are reaching out to adult learners and by providing both online degree and certification programs. This trend meets the needs of working adults who need to develop their skills and obtain better paying jobs (Yoo & Huang, 2013).
Best practices in Adult Degree Programs (ADP) offer success for their students. These programs are always evolving and changing to adapt to the needs of their students. Many programs began as a 'return to complete' type program. Four of the best ADP programs are here in Virginia. The institutions that offer them are Mary Baldwin College, Eastern Mennonite University, the University of Virginia, and James Madison University. Each shows innovation and promise for the adult learner in very different ways.
Mary Baldwin College
The ADP program at Mary Baldwin College (MBC) is an established program that has been in place for quite some time. My brother is a graduate of this program and I considered it when I first returned to school at Blue Ridge Community College in 2005. One of the unique aspects of their program to adapt to adult students and their needs is that they allow you to take classes at other institutions, primarily through the Virginia Community College System (VCCS) and then apply the credits completed to their program. They have an on-site office in eleven cities, in the VCCS institution there. This allows adult students to partner with a MBC counselor before they have applied to the program for assistance in what classes can transfer and will apply to their particular curriculum of study. It can also offer cost savings to the student who can pay the lower tuition costs at the VCCS school instead of MBC, which is a private institution. Here is an excerpt from the MBC website:
You went to work early and came home when the kids were already asleep. You were a regular at enrichment classes offered by the local library. You launched your own business. You spent time away from family and friends as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces.
You may not have been enrolled in college, but you have been learning.
The full-time advisors in Mary Baldwin College's Adult Degree Program are ready to put that knowledge to work. Share your story with them, and they will build a customized educational plan to get you where you want to go.
Your advisor will help you maintain Mary Baldwin's high academic standards while creating a schedule that includes flexible learning options such as weekend, evening, and summer classes as well as independent and online options to fit into your busy life. In addition to providing practical guidance about how to complete an authentic degree, advisors understand their students on a personal level. (Adult Degree Program (ADP)
This is pretty compelling and impressive. The advisors at MBC work simplify the process for students and show that them there are other pathways than the traditional way for students to obtain a degree. MBC will transfer up to 90 credit hours from other accredited college or universities. They also offer guaranteed admission for transfer students from VCCS' 23 colleges that have a GPA of 2.5 or higher. Another process they offer is the prior learning portfolio. This is submitted to faculty for evaluation and can incorporate on the job experience, volunteer service, service in the military and specialized training that the adult student may possess. This allows an adult student that has worked for a number of years to apply their experience to an education area and give them college credit for completion of class requirements. It is beneficial to adult students who have important experience that can be applied to their program and another valid way to obtain college credit for adult students.
Eastern Mennonite University
The program at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) is named the Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCP). Their program is unique in that students only have to attend class once a week and in 15-17 months, they will have a degree. The information on their website summarizes it as follows.
Adult Degree Completion Program (ADCP)
Finish your degree without leaving your job! Find the path that's right for you; choose from one of the following programs of study: RN to BS in Nursing or Management & Organizational Development

At EMU you'll get an education like no other. Our program is fully accredited, reasonably priced, and accelerated.
Attend class one night a week for 15-17 months
Study in a small group with other working adults
Network with other industry professionals
Increase your earnings potential

Our faculty and staff are dedicated to academics and Anabaptist and Mennonite values of peacebuilding and service. We'll help you combine exciting courses, earn credit for your work and life experience, and finish what you started' your college degree!

If you have at least 60 transferable hours of college credit, are at least 25 years of age, and have a 2.0 GPA, you may qualify to enroll. (Adult Degree Completion Program)

This program is something to consider for a working adult learner with the professional and family obligations of many adults seeking a degree. EMU is a private university, so the cost is pretty steep, but the time frame for completion, time commitment to classes is something significant to consider when comparing programs.
University of Virginia
The program at the University of Virginia (UVA) is entitled the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) program. I almost went to school there. The personnel in the ADP office work to develop a relationship with their applicants before they apply to the program. Similar to the program at MBC, ADP personnel at UVA work with their potential students to ensure that they are taking classes that will transfer. They have UVA professors that are designated for this program only. The classes that they offer usually meet in the evenings and on weekends once a week. They are expanding into the online arena too. Their key strength and marketing angle is that 'you will be taught by UVA professors on the UVA campus and you will receive a degree from UVA.' Their website is informative, provides estimated costs and financial aid information up front and offers a lot of information for the adult student shopping programs. Their webpage offers the following:
A Part-Time Degree
The Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) makes it possible for working adults to complete a degree from the University of Virginia in the evenings, on a part-time basis.
Multiple Learning Environments
Instruction occurs primarily face-to-face in a seminar environment. Various learning environments are also available for added flexibility.
The Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies curriculum is designed to foster a broad interdisciplinary education with concentrations in:
' Business
' Liberal Arts
' Individualized Concentration
All students are required to complete an independent research Capstone Project guided by a faculty mentor.
60 Credit Hours Required for Entry
The Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies program requires 60 transferable credit hours to enter the program. The University then requires a minimum of 60 hours of UVa credit in order to earn a baccalaureate degree.
Applicants for the off-Grounds program offered with the Northern Virginia and Tidewater community colleges need to have earned at least fifteen (15) transferable credits from the host community college.

Note: this may not be the program of choice for some individuals who are eager to enter a program sooner and/or may want to bring in more hours that will count toward a degree completion.
Support Starting Today
In an effort to maximize potential success and satisfaction for each student throughout a very challenging academic experience, the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies provides a high level of support and individualized attention, starting at the pre-application stage. Pre-admission counselors are available to meet with prospective students, then, academic advisors are available after admission to the program.
Individuals with a high school diploma, or equivalency, awarded at least 4 years prior to enrolling in the BIS program, and 60 transferable credit hours are invited to apply.
Learn more about the admission process

Tuition & Financial Aid
Based on current academic tuition rates, the estimated cost of the degree is $21,420 in state / $68,400 out of state. Additional fees may apply, including course materials. Tuition rates are adjusted annually.
Learn more about Tuition & Financial Aid (Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies)

James Madison University
Of course, last but not least is our program here at James Madison University (JMU). The Adult Degree Program (ADP). I saved the best for last and of course, I have a biased opinion. When deciding to go back to school for my bachelor's degree, I considered all of the above mentioned programs before realizing that JMU is where I wanted to be. One of my first classes was the orientation class and I was astounded by the fact that I would be designing my own degree program. I was amazed and mystified and felt I had stumbled on the best-kept secret around! How many students get to design their own degree? This is such a unique concept and a way that adults can truly pursue their interests. This still amazes me even as I approach graduation. The program has grown significantly since I entered it in January 2012 and I know that it will continue to grow and expand to meet the needs of adult students. Since I listed information for the other schools, I will also list it for JMU. The webpage is informative, great and easy to navigate. The information provided spells it all out clearly and makes you want to come to JMU. The following is copied from the webpage:
Adult Degree Program (ADP)
The Adult Degree Program (ADP) provides returning adult students with the opportunity to complete their bachelor's degree. This program differs from other degree programs presently offered at JMU in that ADP students tailor their major to meet their career and educational goals while still meeting JMU general education and degree requirements.
Since 1977, the Adult Degree Program has been providing adults, 22 years old and up, with the opportunity to continue their education in a program that addresses their individualized needs, goals, and time schedules. The program recognizes that traditional, highly structured four-year degree programs do not always accommodate the educational needs or lifestyles of adults.
We provide a pathway for adults, whether they are seeking career advancement or change, personal fulfillment or returning from active military duty, to complete their bachelor's degree.
The Adult Degree Program offers adults returning to college the ability to create an individualized program that meets their educational needs. In addition, ADP gives adult students a unique educational opportunity that allows them to integrate other college-level learning such as professional or military experiences into their education at JMU. ADP students may pursue a Bachelor of Individualized study, a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Some distinctive features of the ADP include the following:
' An individually created concentration that is comprised of classes that are chosen to meet the student's educational and/or professional goals.
' Because college-level learning may be acquired through a variety of professional, volunteer and personal experiences, the ADP provides the means to translate experiential learning into academic credit. These can include portfolios of prior learning experience, CLEP exams, credit by exam and various military training/certifications. (James Madison University Adult Degree)

It has been difficult for colleges and universities to engage and involve adult learners.
They need to develop new strategies that serve to engage the students of this growing population. When college leaders do this, they will 'gain insight into what nontraditional students need, desire, and want from their college experience.' In addition, they will realize that nontraditional students need access and have a desire to be a part of campus culture. Inclusion and integration of nontraditional students will require institutions to put these students first and change current programs to address the needs of all students (Wyatt, 2011).
During most of our nation's history, the robust industrial economy has allowed many to earn a comfortable living without a college degree. Those days are gone. Global industrial production and the knowledge economy necessitate a postsecondary education both individually and nationally (Pusser & Breneman, 2007). It can be argued within the current structure that the NSSE benchmark items present some bias against adult students. Many institutions utilize this survey to assess effective practices in education. Institutions could more accurately assess the experience of all college students if they used a model that was not developed using statistics from traditional students. Perhaps the behaviors and practices most applicable to all student populations could be divided between the two to obtain a more accurate measure (Wyatt, 2011). Non-residential adult degree programs subsidize residential degree programs. This has been demonstrated clearly for many years in private universities such as Harvard, New York University, and Boston University. At these institutions, nonresidential degrees are handled by separate units that turn over millions of dollars a year to the general fund of the university (Matkin, 2004). All the factors about adult education policies that are supportive are at the state and local levels. These policies need to address preparation, access, retention and success for adult students. Adult learners need greater support from the policy community to ensure their success (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).
Business and industry can work with policy makers to provide meaningful and flexible subsidies that reflect the new reality of college students today. They also need to build on the planning and policies already in place for learners P-16 of and devise similar comprehensive state and national programs for adult learners (Pusser & Breneman, 2007). The new demands of adult learners, the market size it represents, and the potential access to a new investment are going to require leaders in postsecondary education to reimagine their roles. They are no longer stewards of an existing enterprise. They need to become leaders of innovation. They need to rethink postsecondary education's role for this emerging market and redevelop the institutions infrastructure for providing services (Soares, 2013). The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) has created new legislation that governs institutional accreditation, transfer credit and institutional assessment. The HEA suggests that adult learners and the institutions that serve them will need to adapt at state levels to keep pace with rapid changes. Legislation that is proposed under the HEA reauthorization will offer opportunities and challenges for adult students (Pusser & Breneman, 2007).
The following suggestions are for policy makers to help adult learners:
' Establish financial aid programs specifically for working adult learners.
' Re-think short skills and training for employment. Students will gain the most benefit from programs that provide credit toward the completion of a degree.
' State policy makers can increase support in data collection on enrollment in credit bearing and non-credit bearing courses.
' State policy makers need to devote attention and resources toward including adult learners in
' P-16 models on postsecondary access and success.
' Policymakers, institutional leaders, state workforce development departments and businesses need to work together to coordinate effective policies that include workforce development and education for adult learners. (Pusser & Breneman, 2007)

Much of my research revealed a focus and growth of online learning and distance education programs. This is one way that higher education institutions are reaching out to adult learners (Yoo & Huang, 2013). However, there is an emerging technology that I believe is going to impact all secondary education and be very significant to adult students in days to come. This technology is called MOOC, which stands for massive open online course. MOOC's were largely unknown until a wave of publicity about Stanford University's free online artificial intelligence course. This course attracted 160,000 students from 190 different countries. There were only a small percentage of students that completed the course but the numbers are staggering (Lewin, 2012).
Two computer scientists at Stanford University have founded a company called Coursera and a dozen major research universities that have joined the venture. Coursera advertises on their webpage ' 'Take the world's best courses, online for free.' They currently are working with 108 partners and 644 institutions. These courses are anticipated to draw millions of students and adult learners. Most offerings have covered computer science, math and engineering, but Coursera is expanding in the direction of medicine, poetry and history. Before the company expanded, they had registered 680,000 students in 43 courses (Lewin, 2012). MOOC's do not offer credit, just a 'statement of accomplishment' but the University of Washington is one institution planning to offer credit for its courses in Coursera (Lewin, 2012).
When I initially considered the BIS program at UVA, I had the pleasure to meet and get to know Kathryn Buzzoni. She was then the director of the program. She now is 'Program Director, Academic Partnerships & Community Programs at University of Virginia. For a class last summer, I interviewed her and she was the one to first tell me about MOOC's. She said she had taken one for continuing education credit. She said it was incredible to realize that she was in a class with thousands of other people from all over the world.
It will be some time before it is determined how the new MOOC's will affect enrollment at profit-making online institutions and some talk about how technology and online education will wipe out traditional universities (Lewin, 2012). This is an interesting idea, but I do not believe that it will happen. In the midst of MOOC excitement and enthusiasm, a transformation is coming. It is not driven by technology, although these tools will help the change. The transformation will be driven by the rise of nontraditional learners (Soares, 2013). MOOC's are likely to become a game changer and will open higher education to hundreds of millions of people.
Adult learners need to be placed at the center of higher education policy and practice. All the stakeholders in postsecondary education have a responsibility to appreciate the needs and goals of the adult student. There must be systematic attention to these concerns. Concrete evidence is needed about who adult students are, what works for them and how institutions can respond. The report, Returning to Learning sites ongoing studies that provide some of this information, but indicates that much more research is needed. Colleges and universities can provide innovative and flexible programs designed specifically to serve adult learners. They can also work with local business and community leaders in developing relevant offerings. Institutions can incorporate credit courses into workforce training and continuing education courses taken for job skills that count towards a degree. Institutions also need to gather better data on all of their students and programs. Support services and ready access to information are key, especially for adult learners. Of course, for these things to be realized, state and national policy makers need to be brought onboard and help in providing funding and support. This is critical for our nation and our adult learners (Illuminations, 2007).
'The needs of a post-traditional learners, a national innovation economy, and an information-driven democracy are calling forth a new era of innovation in higher education. The early 21st century presents an entrepreneurial opportunity for higher education leaders not unlike the one that generated the emergence of community colleges and the English liberal college/German research university hybrid in the 19th century.' (Soares, 2013).

Most American families have a 'mental map' of a 22-year-old walking a stage to accept his/her bachelor's degree. This reflects both the historical development of the academy and our ideal map of the journey through postsecondary education. College completion leads to a career, family and settling down. There needs to be a new mental model of college that applies to the realities of the post-traditional learner. Colleges need to embrace these students as innovation partners. (Soares, 2013). For me, the following quote sums it up. 'Adult learners present a constellation of learning needs that are different from those of traditional students.' (Yoo & Huang, 2013).

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