Guest blogger Sister Mary Reap, IHM, is President of Elms College, Chicopee, MA, She also served as President of Marywood University, Scranton, PA, for 19 years.
As the economy continues to fluctuate, the demands of the workforce have followed suit. In order to compete for jobs, or to stay current with skills needed for their current positions, adults are returning to school in large numbers. Today, more than 21 million post-secondary students are enrolled in degree granting institutions in the United States, and almost 8 million — or 38 percent — of them are over the age of 25. According to the Evollution Newswire, this figure will continue to grow over the next ten years. By 2020, there will be more than 9.5 million post-secondary students over the age of 25.
By 2018, 63 percent of all jobs in the United States will require a post-secondary degree. At the current rate that degrees are being conferred, the workforce will be short 3 million degree holders by 2018. Unlike past workforce growth from high school graduates, between 2006-07 and 2019-20 the number of high school graduates is expected to increase only by a total of 1 percent, significantly adding to the shortfall. If this trend continues, average income per capita is expected to decline within the next 15 years.
Cognizant of this trend, recently colleges have increased educational opportunities for the adult learner for career enhancement, promotion and job attainment. Adult learning can be not only rewarding but also demanding and costly. In order to accommodate and attract the adult learner, colleges should consider the following strategies:
* Convenient times and locations: For example, Elms College has off-campus locations at several community college campuses and offers courses at times suited to adult learner needs to provide a unique degree completion program.
* Affordable pricing: Feature condensed, concentrated coursework. By completing coursework in ten eight-week sessions over a 20-month period, or 11 eight-week sessions over a 22-month period, students can save thousands of dollars. With enormous fiscal responsibilities facing today’s adult learners, the ability to save money via non-traditional coursework is vitally important.
* Workforce oriented courses and programs: Although 95 percent of corporations have money budgeted for employee education, only 16 percent of employers feel there is an adequate availability of college programs tailored to their needs. As we did with the Master of Science in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Certificate in Asperger’s Studies, colleges need to create adult programs at the request of employers.
* Personal connection with adult learners: The non-traditional student who chooses to return to college often does so with much trepidation and anxiety. For students often working full-time jobs, the return to college can be a difficult balancing act. In college adult programs, counselors should personally interact with students as early and often as possible.
The development of the future American workforce requires that colleges and universities provide their adult learners with a rewarding and fulfilling experience both personally and professionally.