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Three Major Changes Colleges and Universities Must Make
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Three Major Changes Colleges and Universities Must Make

Adult students face a number of challenges when enrolling in a college or university, but a few small changes can make a big difference.

Non-traditional students are not like college students who are new high school graduates. Most non-traditional students have been out of school for a minimum of five years and, often times, for 20 or more years. The criteria for these students are to be over 25 and in college due to being laid off, fired or wanting a career change. It is not unusual for these students to have families and jobs, unlike younger students. There are, however, several challenges they face in both traditional and online educational settings. They must have a very good grasp of word processing, the Internet, certain writing and citation styles and online research techniques. This does not include the additional problems online students may face with having to navigate an online school environment on top of everything else.

The three biggest ways colleges could help these non-traditional students are to offer incoming students classes before they start their degree program that teach them the writing and citation style the program uses; have more student-professor interaction or an adult education counseling office; and offer better student orientation and a support class for new students.

1. Classes for Writing Styles

Colleges usually only offer tutoring services to non-traditional students who are not used to writing in a scholarly tone. However, these students may not know what in-text citations are, or how to avoid plagiarism (let alone what proper margins and formatting to use for assignments), and so they are unable to understand what the tutors are saying. This leads many non-traditional students to feel too overwhelmed to ask the tutors to break down what they are saying.

One solution is to offer incoming students classes on writing styles in preparation for their programs. Students do not want to take these types of courses because they are not for credit, which means their government assistance will not pay for them. Thus, they should be offered as a single-credit course so government assistance will cover them. A professor could break down the proper formats and writing expectations for the particular program in a six-week course with ease. The students might leave the class still needing practice, but would at least be comfortable with the basics.

2. Non-Traditional Student Counseling

Student-professor interaction is not always great in college. Office hours are often slim and even though office hours for online programs may be offered all day, the professors are often working in their everyday jobs at the same time as those office hours. Students are often forced to wait 24 to 48 hours for a response. The office hours of professors for in-person programs are often at the same time as non-traditional students’ working hours, making it even harder for them to get help. If there was more student-professor interaction or, at the very least, a special administrative department for an adult education counseling office, this would make a huge change in non-traditional students being able to get help when they are overwhelmed, too stressed out to be able to produce quality work, or when they need help with topics unique to them. This is something all colleges need to work on to help these non-traditional students with very unique problems in order to help them do well in school.

3. Student Orientation and Support Classes

Studies have found a difference in stress levels of students in distance learning versus brick-and-mortar graduate students. The results detailed a need for webinars and online classes to teach non-traditional students stress techniques and coping skills, as well as how to use the online learning system (for example, Blackboard) of the distance learning school before starting their programs to build their comfort levels. For brick-and-mortar students, the recommendation was to have night orientation sessions, since many non-traditional students only have time at night, as well as having mentors for these non-traditional students and in-person courses to teach coping techniques for stress. By allowing students to take these courses or webinars before they start classes, they are far more prepared and will be less stressed about school work. They need to learn these skills, especially time management, when going into a new environment while trying to balance family and work. Once again, if these classes were free or offered as a one-credit class, more students would be willing to take them.

Conclusion

There are many additional challenges non-traditional, adult students face when going back to college. None of these students should be treated preferentially, but there should be programs to help them become more comfortable with the university and courses to help them better cope with the additional stressors that affect them. When colleges find a way to do this instead of treating them like any other student coming in, it will become obvious the colleges are keeping up with the newest population and trying to help them succeed. After all, how can colleges expect students to learn when they do not have the fundamentals to succeed?

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4 Responses to Three Major Changes Colleges and Universities Must Make

  1. Tyrese Banner Reply

    2013/10/22 at 10:07 am

    Op-eds like this demonstrate, again, that institutions focus too much on enrollment and not enough on student retention. Everything Daniels suggests seems easy enough for institutions to implement at relatively low costs. Much of this training/orientation could be done in a few weekend afternoons before adult students started their programs. The issue is whether institutions have the will to introduce this.

  2. Ian Richardson Reply

    2013/10/23 at 9:04 am

    When Daniels says classes for writing style, it seems she’s talking more generally about preparation for postsecondary-level work. Perhaps the biggest gap is in writing/communications, but I could also see gaps in other areas, such as computer skills. Now, this type of learning has been labelled “remedial” and so adult students shy away from it. But if it was presented as Daniels describes it here — as an orientation rather than “catch up” training — perhaps more students would sign up before starting their programs.

  3. Carl Reply

    2013/11/30 at 12:09 pm

    I fully agree that Non-traditional students are not like college students! Online education is ideal for non-traditional adult students, as you can study at your own pace, and select the best courses from around the world, without leaving your home, or physical attending an education institute is not practical. I believe the internet have come to stay…

  4. Carl Reply

    2013/12/01 at 12:27 pm

    Great post on highliting the challenges new students face in both traditional and online educational settings. Online education is ideal for non-traditional adult students, as you can study at your own pace, and select the best courses from around the world, without leaving your home, or physical attending an education institute is not practical.

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