student success

Assessing adult college students and improving the college experience for nontraditional learners

Shannon Cook

Senior Director of Retention Solutions

September 11, 2013

The population of adult college students (those 25 and older) is increasingly dramatically every year. By 2020 there will be 10,000,000 adult students filling college classrooms and online programs. So the question becomes, how do you know if you are best serving your nontraditional students and making your institution attractive to that ever growing population?

Assessing adult college students and improving their college experience.
Increasing satisfaction among nontraditional students is not just about pinpointing problems. It’s about addressing key student needs and celebrating your institution’s strengths.

Data collected from the Noel-Levitz satisfaction-priorities surveys for nontraditional students tell us that as a whole, they are pretty satisfied with their educational experience. Data also tell us that if they are not satisfied, they most likely will not re-enroll. That’s a scary thought when you consider 10,000,000 students.

So what do we currently know about adult students? What makes them tick? We know that the number one factor in their decisions to enroll is academic reputation, followed by availability of evening and weekend courses. We also know that for online learners, convenience followed by flexible pacing for completing a program are top enrollment factors. (Download the reports from the Noel-Levitz Web site.)

In addition, according to the Noel-Levitz 2013 National Freshman Attitudes Report , nontraditional students are deeply committed to their educational goals, have a solid system of self-discipline, and will study hard for courses, even those they don’t particularly like. They likely have found a potential career that strongly attracts them and have made a firm decision to enter a certain occupation. However, despite their strong commitment and motivation, they report financial problems that are distracting and they may not have the full financial resources needed to finish college.

These findings shed some light on the challenges adult students face as they begin college for the first time or come back to finish a degree. But as someone who plays a key role in the adult experience at your institution, what specific challenges are your students dealing with? How can you get specific, actionable data about your nontraditional students—not just to identify challenges, but also strengths that can help you best position your campus with future adult learners?

My colleague Julie Bryant and I will be expanding on these topics and how they directly correlate to your adult students during our free Webinar, Retaining and Serving Nontraditional Students (Tuesday, September 26, 2:00 p.m. EST). We will also explore how to successfully survey your student population by using the Noel-Levitz satisfaction assessments, including areas such as:

  • Academic focus and quality
  • Convenience
  • Affordability
  • Connecting students with their futures

Again, adult student satisfaction assessment is not just about pinpointing problems. It’s about addressing key student needs and celebrating your institution’s strengths. With assessment and data-informed planning, you can make your institutional environment both inside and outside of the classroom a place that cultivates adult learning success.

I hope you join us for the Webinar , and I encourage you to read the 2013 reports on adult and online learners . If you have any questions, please e-mail me or leave a comment below. I wish you the best as this academic year gets underway.

About the Author

As senior director of retention solutions, Shannon Cook assists colleges and universities with using our assessment tools, market research, and management consulting to improve student persistence and degree completion rates. She is experienced in addressing...

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