Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Attracting Adults

Like many cc's, mine is banging its head against the wall trying to reverse a long-term decline in the number of adult students.

Contrary to stereotype, most of our enrollment growth has been in students age 19 and under. Our enrollments in the 22-and-up demographic have been slipping for some time.

Part of that, I think, can be traced to the cost of living in our service area. It's sufficiently expensive to live here at this point that if you aren't still living with Mom and Dad, you've moved away. The struggling 30-year-old single Mom doesn't live here anymore, even if she still works here. The adults who live here tend to have advanced degrees already.

(There's a consistent correlation between age and gender among our students. In the 19-and-under group, it's majority male, if by a narrow margin. In the 22-and-over group, it's majority female by an overwhelming margin. The overall student body is majority female.)

Still, even with some unfavorable demographics working against us, we could probably mitigate the impact of the exodus if we did a better job of attracting and keeping the (potential) older students who are here.

We've taken some of the obvious steps: we've implemented open hours in the evenings at the bookstore, the registrar's office, student services, and the like. We have academic advisors on duty in the evenings. We schedule courses to allow degree or certificate completion entirely at night, entirely online, or through a combination of evening and weekend classes. We advertise our occupational programs, and have developed some fairly short occupational certificate programs in high-demand areas. We have special Open Houses for adult students, non-credit programs in areas of special interest (art, culinary, etc.), and even days devoted entirely to senior citizens, who pay no tuition.

Yet the slide continues.

So I'm going to use my bloggy soapbox to make a cry for help. Has your college found a successful and replicable way to reach adult students? For the adult students (or adult former students, or potential adult students) out there: are there barriers to your enrollment that it would be practical for a college to address? My colleagues and I are starting to run low on ideas, but it's a big world out there. Help!

Wow! It sounds like you are already doing many of the right things.

The only other thing I can think of is to "ask" (i.e. survey) the target demographic you are trying to reach directly, especially those currently enrolled. Perhaps they are a unique subset who are more motivated to find a way to overcome or work around whatever barriers/obstacles are inhibiting the others.

On the other hand it may be that the demographics and housing cost issues you cited are just working against you and you'll just have to accept that the population you serve will be younger than in the past.
Why don't you just pretend, for a moment, that you are a manager rather than someone doing ideological battle with tenured union members. A demographic shift has changed the age and interests of the people shopping in your small store. Do you try to bring back your old customers or change your product mix to appeal to the new ones?

If your strong point is teaching kids who never should have left home in the first place, figure out how to market yourself to them.
Childcare. With sensible hours.

The cc I attended had a great, affordable program that closed at 4 but it closed at 4pm. My classes often ran past 4 so I would have to scramble to find someone to pick up. There were no evening options and no infant care.

My current university, despite its token non-traditional mission, does very little to make itself family friendly. I can watch staff and faculty mentally deduct iq points when they hear I am a mother.

Food. At night even.

Night classes started at 6pm at my former cc. Traffic, being horrendous as I imagine it is where you are as well, meant that most working adults/parents who waited for a working spouse to care for small children during class came to school minutes before class started and without any kind of dinner. During breaks, one had a choice between a candy bar or cheetos in the snack machines. In the winter, this was a bleak choice indeed.

Lastly, actively recruit older students for various campus leadership roles/PTK. Most of us had shaky college/school experiences when we were young and have a hard time feeling like we "belong" in an academic setting, especially if one is so obviously an outlier, age-wise and with regard to life experience.
Evening childcare.

I agree with Miranda's comment above--childcare is key. My college offers drop-in care for $5/hour on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. We've also been encouraged to shift more of our night classes to those evenings, to increase the convenience factor. Other services have been expanded to those evenings as well.

For more detail, see
i was about to pop up and say clean, safe, affordable childcare. but it's been said. :)
Second the childcare. Also second the food comment. When I came straight from work to class, one night a week I had a prof who wouldn't even let us drink water in his class, and I couldn't really eat before I came. I ended up having to drop the class because I was so focused on my stomach rumbling that I couldn't think about what he was saying. Even after class, I couldn't find anything open but mcdonalds, so I ate a lot of mcnuggets at that time.
I do not know the actual impact of what I am about to suggest, and it would depend on your available resources how easy/difficult it would be to implement.
One is a distance learning and/or blended learning program. This mitigates traffic issues, potentially mitigates child care issues, and provides a lot of needed flexibility for working adults. At Enormous CC, the distance learning program had an accelerated 8-week option, which frankly was not well-crafted. On the other hand, at current institution, they use a 5-week model, where the course is (or at least appears to be) redesigned for 5-week delivery and thus is intensive.
From an educator's perspective, I am wary of the revised scheduling because it smacks of trying to mimic for-profit strategies to teach skills-based courses. On the other hand, from a business perspective, it makes sense to do as ccphysicist suggests before me in these comments: "change your product mix."
"I can watch staff and faculty mentally deduct iq points when they hear I am a mother"

Oh, man, that makes me FURIOUS. One of my students was telling me just this week that one of her other professors opened the first day of class by informing all of the mothers (not the parents, just the mothers) to drop the class because it would be too hard for them!!!!!!!

(Not only is that offensive and a serious overgeneralization, but I find that as a rule parents have it a lot more together in my classes than the younguns just out of high school.)

DD, is there any sort of that ugliness at your CC? Are adult students being given a subtle or not-so-subtle message by faculty that they ought not be there?

The other thing I find locally is that adults are sometimes not aware of the CC's offerings. The idea of school is floating around the backs of their minds, but they don't realize they have such a great resource right there. I don't know anything about reaching target audiences, but maybe like booths at the local job expo? Passing literature to various local organizations (volunteer groups, etc.)?
I want to add that my comment sounds like I am suggesting a distance learning program as something easy to implement. If there is no existing model at your institution, it is not necessarily a good solution and I am not entirely enamored with 100% distance as the optimal pedagogical model. However, if you are already using a content management system, it could be easier to encourage more blended learning models, which provide more flexibility. I just wanted to be clear that I am not so naive as to think d.l. is an easy solution to implement if there is no existing model!
Your posts have been really boring this week. Just saying.
Our cc has evening and weekend classes. We have child care in the evenings.

While we don't advertise, several of the colleges in our area do and that gets folks thinking about college. Then they come to us for basics, cheap tuition, and convenience. Two of my students this semester are going for their MBAs. Both saw the same billboard and decided that was for them.

I teach all evening classes so most of my students are older.
Eyebrows McGee - I've found that living well is the best reward. It's a lot of fun as well. All's well that ends well, etc.

aacc_prof - That sounds like a great bundle of programs to support adult learners.
Remember that childcare has property tax and federal income tax consequences for any college that is not government-owned.

I went back to my local cc at night after I finished my bachelor's degree to take classes to sit for the CPA exam. That could be a good market for you. Also, in my state an academic class is worth 45 CPE (a year's worth) and the price is a real bargain compared to continuing ed seminars that can run $400 for 8 hours CPE.

My mother has tried several times to take a short computer course at the cc near her - keeps getting canceled!

-I'm accounting as fast as I can
Classes that meet one evening a week. I think I speak for most moms when I say it's easier to juggle a schedule when you can say "I need Monday nights" than if you need to say "I need Monday and Wednesday nights". This goes for childcare, other family obligations, and even work obligations.

The other thing I can think of, on a rotating basis offer novel sorts of classes. Sure, you'll drag a lot of "I really ought to work on a degree" folks in to English 101, but you might also get people who already have degrees taking enrichment classes if you offer things like beginning Asian languages or history of rock music. There is no shame in hiring adjuncts for these classes, although you may find some faculty members who would consider such courses to be labor of love. You can advertise these special classes way ahead of time on the back of the catalog: "This semester: Beginning Mandarin! Learn to say hello to the largest nation on earth! Next semester: Fundamental and Technical Analysis of Stocks! We make it fun, you make it profitable (we hope)!"
I'll echo the food and childcare options, definitely. And class breaks to eat the food if professors won't allow it in their classrooms. I know this is largely up to the individual faculty, but encouraging them to take hunger (and restlessness) into account is pretty important.

Also the campus culture thing that was mentioned - not just professors, but students. I know there's nothing you can do directly to combat negative stereotypes of non-traditional students, but still. At the very least, making sure that professors don't discriminate and that they don't allow people to be stupidly rude in class.

And, ah... I'm sure it's already occurred to you, but just in case - make sure that your professors know how to teach adults. I've talked to a couple CC professors, and some of them have pretty bleak outlooks on their adult students' educational potential. Not just parents, but non-traditional students in general. After all, if they were really smart (or "college material" or whatever), they wouldn't be going to night school now would they?

That's pretty rare though. What's more common is that people get really stuck in the headspace of teaching younger students - assigning homework like they don't have to work, using examples that don't resonate, assuming proficiencies in some areas (computer use, for instance) and deficiencies in others (practical applications, organization), using age-inappropriate teaching methods ("Okay, now we're all going to write in our journals each night, and you're going to turn them in to me at the start of each class." "Everyone get in a group together and make a poster illustrating what you learned during this video. Here are some markers."). Either way, it's disconcerting to see/hear about, and while I don't doubt that people can make it work, I can certainly see losing people to sheer annoyance too. Hell, I was in one such class (at a CC) when I was in high school, and I felt patronized. If I didn't need the credits, I wouldn't have bothered.
Growing up in KC, the local CC group did several things that kept them visible to the adult learner communities:

1. Advertising. They talked about the benefits both tangible and emotional of having a degree and the ease of acquiring one.

2. Fun classes for non-degree seeking students. You mean I can take a business writing class at the same place I took that pottery class? Awesome!

3. Classes in the summer time for kids. This got parents familiar with the campus, which can be a significant barrier to entry.
Magniloquence: ...What's more common is that people get really stuck in the headspace of teaching younger students - assigning homework like they don't have to work, using examples that don't resonate, assuming proficiencies in some areas (computer use, for instance) and deficiencies in others (practical applications, organization)...

Absolutely! Make sure everyone, especially professors, are on the same page and understand and are on board with the particular needs of adult learners. As Magniloquence pointed out, assigments need to take into account a schedule in which the student may work and cannot spend all day prowling the library to complete them.

Also adult learners probably bring practical, real life experience to the table, so assignments that incorporate abstract, textbook case studies are less useful than placing them within the context of something they may have or are currently doing.
With all due respect to everyone's comments above, including Dean Dad's original post, most of the things brought up are secondary.

The primary issue is offerings. With what teaching-and-learning scenario are you trying to draw them in? I submit that the problem is not practical, but philosophical. On the latter my sense is that people don't see themselves as lifelong learners in the subjects that inspire lifelong questions---namely, the liberal arts.

More degrees and certificates are conferred today than ever. But I think there's still an untapped hunger for asking questions about the greatest ideas of the world---about peace, war, human nature, philosophy, language, etc.

Take a page from the old great books movement (i.e. Robert Hutchins, Mortimer Adler, Clifton Fadiman). Start reading groups, or classes, that deal with the perennial classics of world and Western civilization. Offer classes that tackle the biggest and deepest questions of which you can think or imagine. To me, this is what compels people about higher learning, whether at a cc, jr. college, university, or whatever.

The answer, then, does not lie in vocational or hobby endeavors, but in offering something that compels people to look into your offerings.

Once you come up with them then a school ~must~ consider good times, childcare, snacks or food, good teaching, etc. - TL
Around my place, we love us some adult learners. I always joked that my ideal class would be 25 returning female students. Generally, they are wise, attentive, and dedicated students who are just a joy to teach.

But I have to disagree with the "assigning homework like students don't have to work" comments. First, most of our students, at any age, do work, so it's not just an issue of age or motherhood. Second, our course descriptions clearly state that a student in a 3 unit class should expect to spend 6 outside hours on classwork each week, and that's the standard that all students are expected to meet. If an instructor is assigning more work than that overall, it's a problem for all students, not just the older folk.
What if there really aren't that many "adult students" to attract?

Since more students are entering college straight out of high school, perhaps the potential cohort of people who *might* value college are already getting a degree without needing to "return."

I know there are a whole bunch of my former students who should have been flunked out because of their performance...but they weren't. They got a degree just like the student sitting next to him/her, despite the wide variation in ability.

Also, lots of my young students whine about "too much homework," which really is about 2 hours per week. As mentioned above, the standard is 6 hours outside for 3 hours inside class. Why should this be downgraded to accommodate anyone, even a busy working mom? It's an expectation for a reason.

I do not believe in a world of A's for Everyone...
Don't penalize them financially.

York University (in Toronto) forces all students, including part-time students taking night classes, to pay for facilities that only full-time students can reasonably be expected to use*, and to pay administration fees for every class they sign up for (if they aren't in a degree program). As well, night-time public transit sucks, and on-campus parking is expensive.

This means that part-time students who work during the day (most adults' situation) pay up to 50% more than full-time students for the same class, and actually get less.

Carleton University, in Ottawa, charged just tuition. You couldn't use the recreational facilities without paying extra fees (mandatory for full-time students), but you had the choice of whether you thought it was worth it. No administrative fees every semester, either. And oddly, never a shortage of interested adults taking night classes…

*A pool open for public swimming at lunchtime, the ability to join a team with practices at 5:30 and games in the afternoon, and so on -- things that you can't really do if you have a daytime job.
I agree that there should be minimum requirements with regard to how much time students would be expected to spend on assignments outside of class, however it has been my experience that some instructors far surpass what is reasonable.

Also, with respect to comments made by Lacy, I disagree practical issues are secondary. Quite often offerings fail in an institution's ability to competently deliver them to the target market, regardless of the particular content. Lack of an adequate underlying infrastructure supporting that delivery, may make it difficult for people to take advantage of the offering, especially if the target demographic has particular needs as others have pointed out.
This conversation is great! Thanks for all those ideas (and keep 'em coming)!

The points about childcare and food are well-taken, if sometimes hard to implement. (Some colleges have outsourced one or both of those, giving up the ability to control them.) But they're absolutely relevant, and well worth reconsidering in a new light.

TL -- one of my pet theories is that many of the classic works are wasted on folks who haven't lived life yet. The Big Questions of philosophy and such look different when you've become a parent, or faced aging, or just endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Some stuff that just bounced off me at 18 makes far more sense now. I couldn't agree more.
I can tell you from experience that some folks have hard-earned reasons simply not to buy the idea that there exist institutions which are, by and large, interested in making their lives better. For those students, some kind of "WHAM! Welcome to our CC, which is seriously here for you" service is a good way to crack the exterior.

The big things I can think of are childcare and a dinners program, where students are simply given a nutritous box dinner (complete with info for folks with dietary needs) when they come to evening classes for the first couple of sessions, then invited to continue for some nominal fee each class for the remainder of the semester. Announcements on useful programs can be included with the dinner, and they'll actually be read, because they'll come with the food.

You've mentioned reliable transportation as an ongoing issue; I wonder how possible it would be to create some kind of special arrangement with local mechanics (or your shop class) to provide discounted (or free) used car inspections to students.

Oh, and keep the campus barber open late! :)

It's hard to remember how much logistical insanity results when one does not have $10/day to spend on convenience. Showing some respect for these issues will give you a foot in the door for students who are rightly cynical.
Eyebrows McGee, I would encourage that student to report that professor. It is illegal to discriminate and how can students with children be sure that he will grade them fairly.

I taught at a proprietary that offered associate degrees at night. Each class was block - one class per evening. This helped the student focus better and accomplish more work. Classes were scheduled Monday through Thursday, with an occasional Saturday. We had 50-50 men/women and a great success at attracting older students. I can not recall anyone under the age of 25, except the occasional daytime student retaking a course.

The college I attended for undergrad had a Saturday-only program designed for adult students with families. A friend of mine (a single mother) completed a degree through the Sat. program. I don't think she would have accomplished that if it were not for the Sat. program. I feel alot of people fall into that category, both men and women. Family comes first and then if it is put off long enough (kids are out of the house) why go back if it no longer makes a huge difference in financial life?

I also don't see alot of senior citizens taking advantage of free course. College should offer separate classes for seniors. My experience both as a student and professor is less than positive when mixing college kids and seniors in one class. Although, there is usually one or two seniors in a college class, it can be disruptive the whole. In undergrad there were alot of retired professors taking some core art classes. Ideally, it should have been beneficial to the students to learn more, but fighting for equipment use and lack of confidence was detrimental. Also, when teaching a computer class or any course that is technical how does a prof. balance the individual instruction between paying students and retirees attending for free?
My first suggestion is to make sure your staff is able to teach night classes. I have taken quite a few night classes from teachers that were also assigned 8 am classes. After having been on campus for that many hours most were not very good at teaching.

My second suggestion is to make sure that you light the campus well. Prospective students, particularly female, will drive by when their night class would be held and if the parking lot is too dark may choose to not take the class. I hate to say this but safety is a factor.

With night classes try to cluster them together. I took a class at a CC that had a lot of small buildings. My class was the only one in our building, it always seemed rather scary. Since our class used nothing in that building and we had an adjunct who only taught us it would have been really easy to move us near other classes.
All of the ideas are great, especially the one about food. My frustration as a forty-something is that many of the newly minted high school graduates are not ready for college level work. In my one class this semester we are in week five and already two chapters behind. While I sympathize with those who don't have the educational or life experiences that I have, I'm also trying to get the most out of a class that is now crawling at a glacial pace. I do not blame the teacher for this. When most of the class does not know what the word "composite" means, learning can't help but slow to a crawl. Every class I've taken in the last couple of years seems to be going this way. When registration rolls around again, I'm not sure I'll be registering - the frustration factor is too high.
All services available during the day need to be an option until at least 7:00 PM, maybe later -- as is the case for food and childcare.

Advertise this fact -- a few bulletin boards and other ads with something like "working parents concerned about going back to school?"... and show a checklist of the major factors.

My CC recently required the food service people to be open later and the bookstore to be open every night. Next academic support should be open at least until classes start for the evening, and probably later as our working students work EVERY day -- so getting to see a tutor or counselor shouldn't require them to take off of work early.

Also, have a requirement that your tenured faculty teach at least one night class per year or every other year. The nights and weekend faculty shouldn't be 100% adjunct.

Finally, how about some kind of family discount for the parent's tuition? If the kid registers with you, the parents get a 50% tuition waiver for the first class... You could do the same for spouses. I've had several great parent/child pairs in classes and more than a few amazing couples going back to school together.
Also, lots of my young students whine about "too much homework," which really is about 2 hours per week. As mentioned above, the standard is 6 hours outside for 3 hours inside class. Why should this be downgraded to accommodate anyone, even a busy working mom? It's an expectation for a reason.

I don't think this is what we were talking about. I certainly wasn't talking about "downgrading" homework. My point was that people's timing needs vary over time, and particularly change when one has one's daytime hours taken up by work and/or family.

An assignment for a group project that requires the whole group to be present outside of class for several hours is not a good match for working students. An assignment for a group project where the group members do much of the work on their own outside of class and then get together during class hours to do the 'group' parts of it (or where they can coordinate over the phone or online, possibly) is a better example of the same project. The same thing is true of assignments which are linear and time consuming (out of class labs that take several hours and can't be broken down, long reading assignments on material that can't be taken out of the library, anything that requires the use of scarce on-campus resources, like computers with a particular program, etc.); if you can make it something that breaks down easily and is portable (having copies of the reading ready for the class so they can do it while they're going about their day, using software that is easily available, minimizing time necessary on campus, etc.), then things will work better.

Yes, being able to condense work is good too... I'm certainly a quality over quantity person myself... but the important thing is to think about how a person might best accomplish their work and what kind of constraints they might be operating under.
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