With the speed that technology is changing, as well as the rapid growth of some industries and even more rapid decline of others, continuing education is almost a must for any working adult. And that means that colleges and universities need to stay ahead of the game to deliver programs and services for the not-so-fresh out of high school crowd.
“It used to be your life was divided into three stages: formal education, career and family, and retirement. Now, learning involves a second and third stage, and that is because of the tremendous changes through our communication revolution,” says Kenneth T. Vehrkens, BA, MA, MAT, dean and associate vice president at Farleigh Dickinson University in Hackensack, NJ. “The projection is that the half-life of knowledge is about five years now—our knowledge will be obsolete if we don’t continue to learn.”
About a decade ago, it was not uncommon to hear of a colleague or friend going back to school for personal development reasons. However, with today’s competitive workforce and strained economic climate, schools are finding that an increasing number of adults are going back to school because they need to maintain a competitive edge to move up in their careers, says Michael Szarek, assistant vice president for adult and graduate admissions at Felician College in Lodi and Rutherford, NJ. Even for retired baby boomers, going back to school enables them to learn new skills and continue to earn a living during difficult economic times.
How do colleges and universities accommodate a population of accomplished adults who work full-time and juggling multiple responsibilities? It takes a multi-dimensional approach, out-of-the-box thinking and a whole lot of flexibility.
Many colleges and universities have thrown out the “If you build it, they will come,” mentality. Rather, if they want students to enroll, they need to reach out to the students. Felician, for example, offers courses at corporations, hospitals and other organizations after working hours. To make this happen, Szarek says that the staff are willing to travel from site to site.
“Enrollment staff visits once a week, acting as liaisons, and a dedicated staff on the academic side makes sure the content is appropriate,” he says.
Pair the can’t-beat-it flexibility of on-location courses with a 30 percent tuition discount, and students have a hard time saying no to a career upgrade. These types of programs are particularly helpful for the healthcare crowd, particularly those looking to get into the nursing field.
In addition to offering courses online and on location, many colleges and universities, such as Farleigh Dickinson and Berkeley College, are partnering with community colleges to offer students with associates degrees the opportunity to pursue a bachelor’s—or even a master’s—degree on the community college campus.
“We work with many community colleges in New York and New Jersey to provide opportunities for students who graduated from a community college and can come to Berkeley for a bachelor’s. They can get up to 50 percent tuition off based on their GPA. The higher the GPA, the more money you get. Some students who receive state grants have their tuition almost paid in full,” says Dario Cortes, PhD, president of Berkeley.
Six hundred community college students have enrolled and the retention rate is 70 percent.
And talk about reaching out to students—Berkeley’s Project Graduation reached out to prior students who didn’t graduate but who needed to complete only one or two more terms. “We afforded them 100 percent scholarships for the tuition difference,” says Cortes.
Many of these students left years ago because they experienced life changes, moved out of state, or struggled with finances.
“They came in the hundreds,” Cortes says. The project was a win-win for Berkeley and the students who had invested so much time and money into a degree and could finally complete it.
Full-time working adults typically can’t attend daytime classes or just pop into the bursar’s office to pay a tuition bill on their way to the cafeteria for lunch. To address this challenge, most colleges are combining onsite and online classes to accommodate even the most challenging schedules. Offering some coursework onsite allows students to learn from each other, while offering some online coursework allows them to plug away at their homework during the train ride to work or after the kids go to bed.
But it’s not just the day-to-day schedules that working adults need to worry about—they need to think week-to-week and month to month. Farleigh Dickinson is bending over backward to accommodate working adults by not locking them into any particular schedule. It offers fifteen-, twelve-, eight-, six- and four-week terms and students can choose the duration based on their needs at the time. For example, some adults may wish to take an intensive four-week term during the summer, but a slower-paced fifteen-week term during the busier fall and winter months. Other adults may not wish to be in school during the summer at all, instead opting to spend that time with their kids. Students can also move back and forth between the online and on-campus programs, depending on their schedules and needs.
Berkeley is experimenting with allowing adult learners, particularly alumni, to take a handful of courses without locking them into a program.
“You have a mature audience with specific interests, and not everyone wants a certificate or degree,” says Cortes.
The higher education experience does not end when the degree is in hand. Colleges and universities understand that their job extends far beyond graduation day and includes helping place students in a job. However, helping a 22-year-old find a job is different than helping an experienced 42-year-old find a job.
William Paterson University holds separate job fairs for its adult learners, says Bernadette Tiernan, executive director of The Center for Continuing Education & Professional Education. The center ensures that all of the companies presenting at the job fair are indeed hiring, and it offers one-on-one resume critiques on the same day. Attendees can also take advantage of workshops on social media and doing online job searches.
“The last couple of job fairs we have run here drew about 40 vendors and about 400 people on an average,” says Tiernan.
At Berkeley, all students are required to do an internship, practicum, or job-related assignment. If a student is already working in the field of study, that experience can count toward the internship, but if the student is working in a different field, the internship is required. Most students who complete internships are hired after graduation.
“We just want to make sure they get the tools they need to meet the requirements of the work environment,” says Cortes.
Berkeley also requires students to take a seminar on how to interview for a job and write a resume.
Whether you’re a native Spanish speaker who wants to earn a master’s in Spanish while simultaneously learning English, as Farleigh Dickinson offers, or you just want to take advantage of a budding career in healthcare, administrative science, or marketing and communications, chances are there is a college or university in the area to suit your needs.
“It used to be your life was divided into three apts to the needs of adult learners one class at a time