March Madness and the Adult Learner 2022 – Here’s to the Women!

Five Minutes with ACHE,

March Madness and the Adult

Learner 2022 – Here’s to the Women!

In 2019, ACHE began a tradition of using IPEDs data to determine how the 64 schools in the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament would perform if we evaluated them based upon the percentage of undergraduate adult learners these institutions serve. The tradition started because I was seriously losing in my family’s own bracket challenge and I wanted a way to reclaim March Madness. I settled on a bracket project that would allow me to embrace a long-held professional passion – adult learners and how they contribute to the diversity and vibrancy of an institution’s student body. This year, in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Title IX, I have included the Women’s NCAA basketball bracket in this analysis of the adult learner population as well. I am excited to share some observations that emerge from the men and women’s adult learning brackets and to announce that the institutions in the women’s bracket serve far more students than those in the men’s bracket.

From the Men's Bracket: 

  • For the schools competing in the First Four games, an institution must have an adult population of at least 10% to make it to the Dance. One of those First Four teams, Wright State, makes it all the way to the Sweet 16. And another, Texas Southern (with an adult learner population of 20%), gets all the way to the Final Four – a Cinderella Story for adult learners and the university.
  • Twenty schools in the Men’s Bracket have adult learner populations of 5% or less – three of those institutions have virtually no adult learners. Those schools (Duke, Colgate and Notre Dame) are all highly selective institutions accepting less than 30% of their applicants each year.
  • To make it to the Final 4 in the men’s bracket at least 1 in 5 students must be 25 or older. In the winner’s circle 1 in 3 students are adult learners.
  •  Purdue University has been working its way to the Championship and this year the school easily takes the top spot. In 2019, only 15% of Purdue’s students were 25 and older. That figure rose to about 20% in 2021. Now, the school’s winning percentage of adult students is more than 37% - that means the school has more than doubled its population of adult learners in 2019. What has helped Purdue win the championship? For 4 years Purdue University has been named among the Top 10 Most Innovative Universities in America by U.S. News & World Report. Its Global Campus offers a no-obligation 3-week trial for its online programs. Purdue Global offers more than 175 programs online including 33 certificate programs and 1 Doctoral program. Further, its easily searchable degree program website quantifies the number of hours per week a student should expect to devote to their coursework – a dream for busy adults who are trying to decide if they can fit school into their already very busy lives.

From the Women's Bracket: 

  • A school must enroll 24% or more adult learners to earn a place in the Women’s Final Four.
  • The 2 schools who advance to the finals boast adult-learner populations that approach nearly half of the entire student body. The Women’s Bracket finalists include UT Arlington, where 43% of the students are 25 and older, and University of Maryland, where 42% of all students are adults.
  • The Global Campus at Maryland drives its adult learner success. As the largest public university in the country, Maryland serves more than 50,000 active-duty military service members. Its 90+ degree programs include a cybersecurity program ranked 4th in the country by the Military Times.
  •  University of the Incarnate Word makes a strong showing in the Women’s Bracket as well. Advancing to the Elite 8, UIW is the largest Catholic university in Texas. Nearly 1,700 of its 5081 students are adult learners. The university has established 2 campuses in Mexico and a distance learning site in Strasbourg, France. With a focus on the health sciences, UIW serves students interested in Pharmacy, Optometry, Physical Therapy, and Osteopathic Medicine. More than 50% of UIW students have roots in the Latinx or Hispanic community. As such the school awards more degrees to Hispanic students nationally than any other private school in the country.
  • ACHE member institution, Brigham Young University, who makes it to the Final Four in the women’s bracket, serves more than 22,000 adult learners. The school has more than 300 academic programs including 30 doctoral programs. The Wall Street Journal named BYU the #1 university in the West for student engagement.
  • The big winner of the Women’s Bracket, UT Arlington (who beats Purdue by 6 percentage points) serves 15,000 adult learners. It is clear that Arlington is working to create an environment that is comfortable and inclusive for all learners. That sense of belonging has led the school to be named #1 in the nation for veterans and their families by The Military Times. In addition Diverse: Issues in Higher Education name UT Arlington the #1 school in Texas for awarding degrees to African-American students. Further, U.S. News and World Report names the campus #3 in the nation for undergraduate student diversity. The institutions also offers a large number of certificate programs through the Division for Enterprise Development that could be very attractive to adult learners.
Adding the schools in the women’s tournament this year really helped to elevate the number of schools that could be featured as winners in serving adult learners; a fitting observation given the inclusive strides Title IX made in providing scholarship access to female college athletes. 40 years ago, the NCAA hosted the first women’s basketball championship. It is fitting that we celebrate these important milestones in the history of women in college and the university and even more fitting that ACHE use this moment to celebrate the contributions of female student-athletes along with the contributions adult learners make to higher education communities. Once again, I can’t be held responsible for any wagers you make based upon this analysis, but the lessons we can learn from the institutions who are most successful with adult learners can go a long way in helping u s improve all of our institutions for non-traditional students.
By, Amy D. Johnson, Ed.D.