AUDIO | Better Information Critical for Adult Student Retention
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AUDIO | Better Information Critical for Adult Student Retention

With better information from the institution, adult students could be more comfortable when they first enroll in postsecondary education.


The following interview is with James Osborn, a Marine Corps veteran and student at Penn State University. Osborn recently spoke about the value of accelerated evening classes for working adult students. In this interview, he discusses his educational journey and shares insights on how higher education could be restructured to better meet the needs of adult students.

Click here to read key takeaways.

1. Why did you decide to enroll in higher education as an adult?

I spent six years in the Marine Corps. I deployed multiple times throughout that tenure and after I got out, I established myself with a job. I had eight years [of] work experience and decided I was going to go back into school and better myself with education so I’d have both sides of the field; experience with the military as well as a college degree.

2. Did you find your colleagues either in the military or in your job, once you began, were themselves interested in going back to school to improve their skills?

Out of all of the classes I’ve taken so far, I’ve been the only veteran that has been in those different classes. Obviously I’m not the only veteran that’s going back to school. Also in the civilian sector, I don’t work with a lot of veterans, but I do know a few young adults that have gone back to school to better their education based on their job and where they want to succeed in the future.

3. Reflecting on your own experience in postsecondary education, what are a few services your institution has in place to support the academic success of adult students?

I would say, first and foremost, I was overwhelmed with Penn State; the way their adult learner program works. I was very nervous going back into it, especially working a full-time job. I work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. At the end of the day, I [go] to Penn State York; all the classes are in the evening around my schedule. The homework assignments are pretty demanding as far as the amount of work outside of class, but that’s due to me taking accelerated courses. …

I can space out the workload with my everyday life, my work schedule and so on. This way I can plan accordingly to get my assignments done and submitted on time.

I would also say just the atmosphere. I show up to the campus, everyone’s friendly. All of the professors I’ve dealt with are there to help, no matter what time. I’ve talked to a professor at 11:00 p.m. because that was the only time I could, just to get more clarification on an assignment. From that standpoint, that’s very beneficial, especially for someone who’s been out of the education environment, so to say, for so long.

4. What kinds of changes do you think could be made at the institutional level to help more adults succeed and access higher education?

I found Penn State on my own; it wasn’t like they reached out to me at a career fair or a school fair and [I] heard about their extra activities for adult learners or their programs for adult learners. I think they can probably do a better job at targeting adult learners who are interested in going back to school. Another thing is … I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous when I first started to take on this role, just for not knowing, “Am I going to be able to get good grades? Is this going to work for me?” Obviously … I’ve got to focus at work first and then do the college in between work, because I don’t want that to impact my day-to-day job.

I just think they can probably do a better job at teaching adult learners how [higher education] works. … I think a lot of it is on the individual who wants to go back to school, but I think the orientation could do better at providing adult learners the information they need to get them to say, “Yes, this school will fit for me.”

5. Looking at the same question, but from a higher level, do you think state or federal government bodies could make any changes to make higher education better for adults?

I’m using my GI Bill, so I’m not absolutely strapped down with time to find out how I’m going to pay for my classes. …

I know one of the biggest struggles today with education is a lot of people, they don’t have to pay anything while they’re going to school, but then after they get out of school, they have to start paying and a lot of people are running into the issue that they can’t afford to pay their tuition bills.

If the government is going to allow that, maybe they can put something in place where it comes out of your paycheck. To me, you don’t want to ruin generations in the future of having that opportunity to go to school.

6. Since employers benefit most from employees being capable of doing higher level work, do you think they have a responsibility to see higher education as a necessary step for their employees to take to grow their businesses?

I would say yes. … I’m going to use an example of a full-time college student going to school right out of high school. So, they go to school, they don’t really have to pay anything until they graduate. So, say they get employed by not just any employer, but let’s say it’s a pretty big, well-known employer.

Maybe there could be agreements where, since the employer is hiring that individual, the employer is responsible for some of that education; because they hired that student based on what they went to school for, what they qualify for and the skill sets the employer is looking for.

7. Is there anything you’d like to add about higher education accessibility for adult students and how higher education could change to better support the success of adults?

The one thing I’ve tried to stress to people I’ve communicated to since I started going back to school: most individuals that are adult learners that go back to school — it’s really up to them. They have to have the mentality and the willpower to take that challenge and decide they’re going to go back to school and apply that additional time to schoolwork versus going to the gym or watching TV or whatever it is they do outside of work.

I also think, from my experience, the transition has been overwhelming in a good way because I can easily adapt the work schedule to my college … I can plan out my assignments with my work schedule so that I can meet them on time to get good grades. At the end of the day, it’s really up to the adult learner to take that next step.

But I think it is definitely an overwhelming experience when you actually see the end result and you have a good mentality for what you’re doing, the cause of what you’re doing; you’re doing it to better yourself, you’re doing it to better yourself for a job, at home, everyday life and things of that nature.

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Key Takeaways

  • After enrolling in higher education, adult students need to be responsible for their own academic success.
  • Institutions can support that success by providing them with flexible schedules and adequate information about the program and school.
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2 Responses to AUDIO | Better Information Critical for Adult Student Retention

  1. Tyrese Banner Reply

    2014/02/27 at 1:35 pm

    I know of at least a few institutions that have a service where, after enrollment, the incoming student receives a call from either student support staff or program alumni who can answer any questions the student may have. This seems to me to be a good way of introducing a student to their program and demonstrating that the school will be supportive of their efforts to succeed.

  2. Daniele Thomas Reply

    2014/02/28 at 8:44 am

    From listening to this, I get the sense that institutions need to do a better job of preparing incoming adult students overall. They should communicate student expectations and responsibilities so that students don’t feel blindsided once they begin. Osborn’s comment about the issue with student loan repayment is surprising to me. Perhaps these students just don’t know the extent of the financial obligation required to achieve a credential.

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