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Some schools still don’t understand the needs of the adult learner

February 06, 2015 1:12 PM | ACHE Home Office (Administrator)

Written by Marthann Schulte, one of our February guest authors

Marthann SchulteOne of the fathers in my neighborhood, I’ll call him “Jack,” recently returned to college.  He is pursuing his master’s degree in international relations and, because I work in higher education, he has asked me for some tricks and tips.  He last attended college over 18 years ago and was a little bit concerned about now being the “old guy” in the class.
Jack’s master’s program has traditional face-to-face class meetings.  The classes are held in the late afternoon and evening to accommodate “commuter” and adult students.  Most of the students in the program are non-traditional, working adults with families.  However, it seems like the professors, administrative offices, and overall expectations of the college personnel are still in the “traditional” mindset.
For example, Jack asked me during the Fall 2014 semester if it was normal for college professors to have office hours.  When I said, “Yes, that is normally a requirement for any faculty member,” Jack said, “Well, then why don’t they require a professor who teaches night classes have some office hours after 5 pm?  I can’t take off work in the middle of the day, drive to campus, and see the professor during his regular office hours.”  I didn’t have a good response.  Jack also mentioned his frustrations with various administrative offices on the campus that didn’t have post-5 pm hours to assist adult students.
Another irritant to Jack was the creation of study groups.  A particularly challenging statistics course led many students to form study groups.  The full time, traditional students met during the regular workday, on campus, and were sometimes visited by the professor when they requested assistance.  The non-traditional adult students, like Jack, could not find suitable days/times to meet after their workday.  They resorted to forming a sort of email “hotline” to help each other on assignments, but this arrangement was less than ideal.  When one of the adult students asked if Blackboard (LMS) space could be used for a discussion thread for the adult students to use, the professor stated that this would not be an acceptable use of that college resource.
Jack shared some additional frustrations that he experienced as an adult, non-traditional student in the “traditional college world.”  I listened and shared some of the things that Jack, as an adult student, might request from the college to make it more adult friendly.  After making a few requests that went unheeded, Jack told me that he has resigned himself to just getting through his degree as best he could, trying to work within the traditional college expectations while being a non-traditional student.
For me, there is a “silver lining” in what Jack shared with me and what I now share with you, the fine members of ACHE.  We get it!  We understand the adult learner.  We understand those who want and NEED continuing education to improve their lives.  We go out of our way to understand our learners, our teachers, and all those who make our innovative programs a success.  We adapt.  We change.  We are the ones who say “Yes, we can do that!” despite continued cuts to resources.  And our adult students are all the better for our commitment and skills.

Do you have a story to share? Let us know!

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