Colleges Must Pay More Heed to Needs of Adult Learners, Paper Says

The needs of “post-traditional learners” are being neglected amid all the attention being paid to MOOCs and other technological innovations in higher education, according to a new paper commissioned by the American Council on Education and written by Louis Soares, a special policy adviser to Molly Corbett Broad, the ACE’s president.

In the paper, “Post-traditional Learners and the Transformation of Postsecondary Education: A Manifesto for College Leaders,” Mr. Soares concludes that such adult learners, ages 25 to 64 and lacking a college credential, are being underserved by current higher-education institutions even as their share of enrollments grows—a trend that represents a much more significant shift than the advent of new technologies for distance education.

Those students, who include high-school dropouts, high-school graduates, single parents, immigrants, veterans, and others, deserve better, he writes, especially given that their attainment of postsecondary credentials is critical to the American economy’s growing need for skilled workers to compete worldwide.

Even when those students pursue a college credential, Mr. Soares writes, they tend to graduate at much lower rates than do traditional-age students, a sure sign that higher education can do better. To those ends, he recommends, among other things, that colleges:

  • Create a consortium that includes nonacademics to improve teaching and learning for post-traditional students, a suggestion that colleges embrace rather than resist new types of credentials that don’t originate in academe.
  • Rethink higher education from the perspective of the post-traditional learner.
  • Be entrepreneurial, not merely “stewards” of current practices.

In a statement quoted in an ACE news release, Ms. Broad said the report offered “some intriguing ideas.”

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