Colleges seek to attract older students | SehndeWeb


Colleges are testing new tactics to increase the number of adult learners in the classroom after years of declining enrollment.

Post-secondary enrollment in Michigan fell 1.7%, or 7,463 students, in fall 2021. From fall 2019 to 2020, enrollment fell 9.2%, or 44,578 students, according to National Student Clearinghouse estimates.

This problem is not limited to traditional college-aged students, as students 24 and older have experienced the largest relative decline in enrollment. In fall 2021, adult enrollment fell 3.4% or 210,800 students nationwide.

Many universities and community colleges are working to reduce these numbers and, in doing so, are devising ways to meet the needs of older learners, such as childcare options and counseling services.

At Wayne State University, the Warrior Way Back program aims to re-enroll adult learners with previous training.

According to program advisor Amber Neher, the debt forgiveness program helps students who left Wayne State pay $1,500 or less to return to college.

Students must meet certain criteria to be eligible: they cannot have attended for at least two years, must have left with a minimum GPA of 2.0, and owe the university $1,500 or less.

“We have worked extensively with the Detroit regional chamber to facilitate the return of students, whether to Wayne State or perhaps to another local institution. While we want students to return to Wayne State, we understand it’s not the best fit for everyone,” Neher said. “Also, for someone who went to Oakland (college), that might not be the best fit anymore, so they come to Wayne State.”

Neher has noticed that having a dedicated support team has made all the difference for adult learners once they are on campus.

“We have developed a strong team, including adult learner advisors, an adult learner career coach and an adult learner liaison, so there are people who are specific to adult learners,” a- she declared.

Wayne State also has emergency grants, a food pantry, and the Wayne Wardrobe Initiative, which provides business clothes and lightly used casual clothes. He is finding a new way to provide child care.

The university currently offers childcare options to students, but recognizes that these options are limited.

According to Neher, it was the first such program in Michigan.

“To date, we have welcomed 298 students into the Warrior Way Back program. Of those, 66 graduated from Wayne State while enrolled in Warrior Way Back,” Neher said.

A total of 88 students affiliated with Warrior Way Back have graduated.

According to Bob Murphy, director of policy for the Michigan Association of State Universities, some adult learners have made mistakes when entering the workforce. He said that while many people were told to consider a skilled trade rather than a college education, the salary estimates provided may not have been entirely accurate.

Murphy said many adult learners need a different set of needs and supports because “life gets in their way sometimes”.

“Many adult learners work full time and then have to adjust to study and research. Most people my age have a family that they raise or they take care of their parents or other elderly people,” he said.

“There’s a complete shortage of affordable childcare right now, and so a lot of people have left the workforce and never come back because they’re providing that childcare.”

Murphy said many universities have online offerings in programs that adult learners tend to enroll in.

“We constantly hear that most adult learners want flexible online delivery models, perhaps asynchronous, because they adjust to them at the end of the day, when work is done and family is in bed. “Murphy said.

Neher agreed, saying Wayne State had seen high demand for online, evening and weekend classes since before the pandemic.

Murphy said Michigan Reconnect is another great opportunity to earn a community college degree.

Reconnect allows adult learners to enroll in local community college courses for free. The only requirements are that the participant has no previous degree, is either over the age of 25, or a resident of Michigan for at least one year and has a high school diploma or equivalent.

“We know Reconnect does a lot of good for the community college sector, and I think that could really apply to the public university sector. It’s a big ask, and it would be transformational for adult learners pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the state,” he said.

“They’re not eligible, but that would be nice,” Murphy said.

In March 2022, community colleges in Michigan reported that more than 500 Reconnectors had completed their skills certificate or an associate’s degree program, according to Erica Quealy, director of communications for the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

“Most adult learners have families, jobs, and other obligations that can make it difficult for them to return to college or enter college. We want them to know they are not alone in this process,” Quealy said.

Quealy said applicants accepted to Michigan Reconnect receive one-on-one guidance from a navigator to help them with many aspects of higher education, from choosing a degree program to enrolling in courses. by applying for financial aid and scholarships.

“Higher education or vocational training opens many doors and paves the way to a rewarding career and bigger salaries,” Quealy said.

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