Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is your community college adult-friendly?

About a week ago I published a guest blog post for on why for-profit and career/technical programs can be good options for some students, particularly adult students. I highlighted the flexibility, convenience, and relevance of such programs as great selling points because a lot of adults are seeking training that will accommodate tight work schedules and family obligations.

Another point to consider is that a lot of adult students seeking further education already have a degree and are looking to be trained in very specific skill sets. 

While community colleges are, of course, the very apple of my eye, I would be remiss to turn a blind eye to an issue that continually causes us to miss out on potential enrollment opportunities. Our Achilles heel is our academic calendar. Determined to hold on to the traditional calendar year, we offer courses all year round, but in a time frame that still caters to the traditional college student. However, we all know that at most community colleges, the 18-24 year old is not the typical student. For example, at the community college I work for, the average student is 29.

Our typical community college student wears many hats and has to, in a sense, "get in where they fit in". So if they represent the majority of our student population, then why do we make it so hard for them to fit in? I've had countless admissions counseling appointments with prospective adult students who, after years of putting everyone else first, have now managed to carve out a limited window of time to pursue a degree, and are in the mindset that it's either now or never and they would prefer if it didn't take forever. They want to get started as soon as possible. So I cringe at the prospect that comes to me in February knowing that I will have to tell them that they have to wait until May or June to even take a class. 

I'll be honest. At my brief educational stint at the University of Phoenix (I was contemplating getting a second master's degree), one of the things that I really liked about them was that there was always a cycle of classes beginning in the near future. Now I'm not the biggest fan of for-profit or proprietary schools, but one must give credit where credit is due and this level of convenience is something that they deliver well.

If community colleges would offer more feasible options to adult students, I think it could drastically cut down on the number who wind up at for-profit schools, paying exponentially larger prices for the same, or in some cases, less quality education than they would have received at a community college. 

Now, with that said, a number of community colleges are answering the call for greater flexibility by offering more accelerated degree program options, particularly within the business discipline. Harrisburg Area Community College in the central Pennsylvania region is a great example. They have even offered opportunities for students to complete their bachelor degree on campus, through a four-year university. 

So we are making strides, but there is still room for improvement. 

What are local community colleges in your area doing to increase flexible course options for adult learners? 


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