Thursday, March 05, 2015


ASAP for Adults

The ASAP program at CUNY has been getting good press recently.  In a nutshell, it’s an attempt to take as many distractions away from students as possible, in order to improve graduation rates.  Early results suggest that when you require students to attend full-time, you give them intensive personal advising, you give priority in scheduling, and you increase your per-student spending by about sixty percent, you can make meaningful gains in graduation rates.  

Some elements of that scale more easily than others.  Increased per-student spending can cover increased advising, for example, though scaling priority scheduling is impossible by definition.  If everybody gets priority, nobody does.  

But even at scale, a program that requires full-time enrollment would rule out many adults.  

If we wanted to increase the success rates of adult students -- a worthy goal, I think -- what would we do?  What would an ASAP for Adults program look like?  If we assume that many adults can only go part-time, if they go at all, how could we improve their success?

I have a few thoughts and observations, though I’m hoping my wise and worldly readers will have more to add.  Many of these already exist at some level, including on my own campus.

-- Put free tutorials online, and supply scholarship funding to cover test fees for challenge exams.  Many adults have picked up skills over the years, but don’t have academic credits to show for them.  Challenge exams -- whether CLEP, DSST, or locally developed -- offer an easy way to determine whether they have the skills and knowledge to bypass certain courses.  (We used our first TAACCCT grant to develop a set of local challenge exams in fields that adults tend to favor.)  Challenge exams aren’t free, and financial aid currently doesn’t cover them.  It wouldn’t cost much to cover the fees, and the recognition of credits would speed time to completion.

-- Shorter courses.  Fifteen-week classes offer more chances for life to get in the way than, say, five- or seven-week courses do.  Running multiple calendars concurrently on a single campus creates serious challenges for ERP systems and internal processes; a statewide or, preferably, national effort to adapt ERP systems and financial aid rules to make them friendlier to concurrent schedules would make it easier for colleges to offer those options.  As it stands, the back-office challenges to concurrent calendars are often prohibitive.

-- Blended/hybrid formats.  A “brick and click” program, in which onsite time is reduced but still exists, works particularly well for adults.  But doing it well requires thoughtful and sustained professional development for faculty.  That’s often the first thing to get cut when budgets are tight, which is most of the time.  A statewide or national initiative to improve adult education wouldn’t make the frequent mistake of forgetting the institutions that provide the education.  Instead, it would make a point of funding professional development for faculty around teaching in alternate formats.

The common theme to these is that asking institutions to adapt to the real and identifiable needs of adult students requires resources.  Starting with traditional students is easy, because that’s who the institutions were originally designed to serve.  It doesn’t require radical change.  If you want to serve adults well, the change will have to go deeper, and will have to involve such unsexy-but-important areas as ERP systems, financial aid rules, and sustained funding for professional development.  

Wise and worldly readers, what would you add?  What would an ASAP program for adults look like?

Depending on the demographic, babysitting might make a huge difference.
Mentorship with more advanced adult students who succeeded with similar challenges.

The most obvious way to improve the success rate of adult students who hold a full-time job is to measure it appropriately. You need a 6-year window for a half-time student.

I had one student who needed almost 6 years to complete his engineering degree after earning his AA in about 4 years. It is difficult to do it any faster if you are working a 40-hour week to support your family.
I am a big fan of the 6 week classes we have. That is a 2.5 compression that we use in the summer, running 5 days a week.

IMHO, meeting 5 days a week is the big factor. I wonder how our regular semester 8-week classes would work if they were Mon-Tues -- Thurs-Fri to reduce the long-weekend effect.
I appreciate that CCs are meant to be there for the masses but I wonder if that mission hasn't rather outlived its purpose. That's a poor way to phrase what I mean, so please let me clarify: no matter where you are as an academic, the differences in preparation of your students is an obstacle. But it seems like CCs are progressively being asked to be all things to all people. It's not at all mission drift, but more constituent growth.

As the gap between the traditional college student and the non-trad student with familial obligations and a full-time job, etc. etc. grows, I wonder if it wouldn't be easier for CCs with a large enough constituency to create tracks for each.
Don't know how applicable it is to your situation, but one thing that's stopped me getting more formal education is the lump-sum fees universities here add to tuition.

Things like an annual application fee for non-full-time students. (Flat-rate no matter if you're only taking one course, because that's all you have time for.)

Fees for things like recreation facilities that aren't open when I can use them. (Hint: I'm taking a night course because I work during the day. How would I use a rec centre that closes before my shift is over?)

Last time I looked at taking a course, the cost was doubled by things like that. If I was taking a full load these fees would have been about 10% of my tuition, but 100% was a lot to swallow.
Anonymous@9:06PM says
"no matter where you are as an academic, the differences in preparation of your students is an obstacle"

That might make an interesting topic for the future, Dean Dad.

IME, the obstacle is quite different in a FIRST semester class at an open admission college. Elsewhere they depend on admission standards and placement procedures. After that, the differences are pretty similar across institutions that have similar standards for similar classes, e.g. calculus.

If you are talking about sophomores, any significant problems are of your own making.
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