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Jason Krall and Natalie Wilson -
Adult learners are on the rise
Nationally, the number of students enrolled in college being classified as adult or nontraditional continues to rise. Schools may use different criteria to define an adult student. The general profile of the adult learner is one who is four or more years out of high school at the time of admission. Regardless of age, all students face many challenges. But adult students face many unique challenges — all of which can be overcome with a support structure that many colleges do have in place to assist students.
Like a circus performer delicately balancing plates, adult students are experts at juggling all of their obligations — including, but not limited to — school, homework assignments, job, spouse, children and older parents.
The time invested
Time spent in the classroom, or in front of the computer for online instruction, is just one piece of the pie. Students are expected to spend 45 hours per week in class, doing homework, reading, or communicating with classmates for every one credit earned. On average, adult students take six credits per semester — that’s 270 hours spent in and outside of the classroom.
Add those hours to the schedule of an adult student who works a full- or part-time job, and it may seem overwhelming. However, don’t despair. Adult students may not have the luxury of spending their evenings or weekends in a quiet library working on assignments, but universities are focused on the success of the adult learner. Courses are being designed to utilize technology, making it easier to submit assignments. And forums are provided, allowing students to chat with classmates at various times throughout the day.
The classroom experience is certainly not limited to the traditional meeting times and days of the week. Learning is happening at all hours of the day via creative tools. Many classes utilize modules that allow adult students to work at their own pace. Keep in mind there is still formality and structure involved in meeting course deadlines, but the classroom as you once knew it has changed — and continues to evolve. In fact, you may be eligible for credit earned through military or through work experience. You just need to ask about all your options.
Financial resources and services exist
In addition to the time commitment, adult students wonder how they can afford college. Many have children of their own in college or high school — or even younger. The college financial aid office is a great resource to help answer all the daunting financial aid questions, which can be a mystery. Adult students may think they are too old to get a grant or scholarship, which is not the case. After you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), your school’s financial aid office will be able to provide you with a financial aid package. This detailed report will explain your loan options as well as state and federal grants for which you are eligible. On top of this, there are numerous scholarship opportunities and private loans that students may pursue to fund their college dream.
Never too late and never too old
The old adage that you are never too old to learn new things is best exemplified in higher education. As humans we never stop learning, and the college experience is often enhanced by being an adult learner. Life and work experiences are wonderful tools to bring to classroom discussions and assignments.
Don’t put off finishing that degree or starting college for the first time. Start by contacting the admissions office, and you will be guided through all the steps it takes to enroll. College and university student service offices can provide you with information about tutoring, disability services support, campus life and opportunities to get involved in clubs and groups. Yes, there are often clubs and groups for adult learners.
Learn more about ways to grow professionally in your career. Visit Carlow University’s College of Professional Studies.
About the Author: Krall, MBA, who has been in higher education for more than 20 years, is assistant provost for academic operations at Carlow University. Wilson, who has worked in financial aid in higher education for 30 years, currently serves as director of financial aid at Carlow University.
Contact: Jason Krall and Natalie Wilson