Future of higher ed could depend on servicing "post-traditional" learners, report finds

Future of higher ed could depend on servicing “post-traditional” learners

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Helping non-traditional students earn degrees could be the key to sustainability for institutions that have struggled through a decade characterized by economic recession, stagnant wages and ballooning tuition costs, according to a report from the American Council on Education…

Dive Brief:

  • Helping non-traditional students earn degrees could be the key to sustainability for institutions that have struggled through a decade characterized by economic recession, stagnant wages and ballooning tuition costs, according to a report from the American Council on Education.
  • There are 31 million prospective adult learners who offer institutions the opportunity to improve their short-term and long-term financial prospects if they adopt policies and programs to meet their specific needs, the ACE report said. It states that 70% of non-traditional learners have a job and 45% work full-time; 26% are single parents and only 2% live on campus. Additionally, 53% are enrolled in two-year institutions, compared with 35% of traditional learners.
  • The report's authors also urge higher ed administrators to create strong relationships with industries in the private sector, and advise lawmakers to readjust the Pell Grant structure to keep pace with inflation.

Dive Insight:

Data indicates that the number of traditional college students will continue to shrink during the next decade, particularly in the Northeast and the Midwest — an industry-wide sea change that led Education Dive to deem the focus on adult learners as 2017's "Obsession of the Year." The ACE report warns that colleges and universities — particularly smaller private institutions that are highly dependent on tuition and facing precipitous enrollment declines — that ignore the need to attract older learners are in peril.

By bolstering their enrollment with adult students, two-year colleges may avoid the fate of public two-year institutions, like those in Vermont, has proposed merging 13 of its two-year colleges into its four-year institutions due to low enrollment.

To attract and accommodate adults, institutions are remaking their curriculum and revising markers of success. However, observers advise that four-year universities should also bolster relationships with nearby community colleges to make the transfer process as straightforward as possible. Foregoing outreach to community college transfers leaves a massive untapped potential for boosting enrollment and tuition.


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