“Non-traditional student” is a difficult term to absolutely define. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) acknowledges there is no precise definition for non-traditional student, but suggests that part-time status and age are common elements. Non-traditional students may attend part-time for at least part of the academic year, work full-time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled, may be supporting dependents and may need financial aid to further their education.
Through the research we recently conducted at the College of Extended Studies at San Diego State University (SDSU), we found a large percentage of our non-traditional students were unemployed or underemployed and military students (including active service members, veterans and military spouses).
Paralleling this research was the fact that we aim to be innovative and at the industry forefront for offering “education-to-career” type programs. Building a strong local workforce is a high priority for us, and we’re constantly striving to ensure the region we operate in has a skilled, job-ready workforce that helps local employers and businesses to thrive.
There are three major approaches that can help an institution become a major player in local workforce development.
1. Become an Approved Provider for Workforce Development
One way for a university or college to become more focused on the economic development of the local community is to become an approved provider for workforce development. Every state in the United States has workforce career centers that provide Federal Workforce Investment Act dollars to the unemployed and underemployed. The key is to offer education-to-career courses that can wrap into a certificate, certification or degree and lead to a job.
It’s ideal to become an approved provider because the status builds class enrollments, and enrolled students receive training toward getting a job. A typical certificate program could be one you’re currently offering, such as a human resource management certificate, project management certificate or a new area of job development becoming a trend in your area. This is the true definition of a win-win situation.
2. Become an Approved Military Education Provider
Another area in which a college can become community centric is to become an approved provider for veterans, active military service members and their spouses. One mechanism we used to help current and transitioning military students was developing a veterans’ service office. We designed academic programs specifically to suit the needs of those still in the service and those who have completed their duty, including certificate programs, career training programs, degree programs and professional skills courses.
Military funding for education and career development is sometimes overlooked but is vital to transitioning veterans into the workforce. Another clear win-win.
3. Stay on Top of Local Economic Trends and Focus on Careers
Meeting the demands of non-traditional learners and their career interests can be challenging. However, you can accomplish this by looking at your region (city, county and state) from the 30,000-ft level for peaks of growth in new business areas.
As an example, when San Diego became a mecca for sustainability innovators in 2008, SDSU developed four professional online certificates in green energy, sustainable business practices, green building and water management and landscape sustainability. Because San Diego is a border town with interests ranging from defense to tourism, we developed a number of programs to meet the diverse interests of our local stakeholders. For the hospitality and tourism industry, we have developed programs such as the business of wine, the craft beer and meeting and event planning certificates. Today, SDSU is rolling out a professional online certificate in security and trade for border security.
All of the programs focus on careers and career advancement, central to achieving the “approved provider” status with workforce and veterans.
Offering workforce and military-approved courses through your college or university can give an upsurge to enrollments, add a new and more diverse audience to your mix and embed your college into the community. For SDSU, it has been a fulfilling experience.
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