A brief review of the history of US colleges and universities reveals an increase in the types and effectiveness of academic student services such as tutoring, at-risk counseling, and academic advising for non-traditional adult learners. This is attributed to the steady increase of non-traditional students in college campuses throughout the nation. Non-traditional learners are defined as individuals above the age of 24 with more than 2 years between their last formal education experience and their college enrollment. This research paper reviews the need for such services, the types of services provided, and their effectiveness in retaining adult learners in college.
Keywords: Non-traditional adult learners, higher education
It is evident that there is an increase of non-traditional adult learners who are enrolling into colleges and universities with the hopes to either start or advance in their careers. Unfortunately, many colleges and universities are designed and equipped to cater to more traditional students rather than the non-traditional student populations. Undeniably, “at a time when many colleges and universities face increased challenges to their recruitment and retention goals, a deeper understanding of this non-traditional student population is crucial to help meet the social and academic expectations of a rapidly emerging and vital student population.” (Zimmer, 2017)
Background and Statement of Problem
Studies have found that colleges and universities are seeing a progression in enrollment from students who are older, with families, and/or working (Westervelt, 2016). As the development of job opportunities and the demand for a more literate workforce increases, many employers are requiring more stringent and modern work skills from those they employ. Studies by Brown found that “a trend causing adults to return to campuses in such record numbers is the rapid pace of changes in the workplace” (2002). Evidently, individuals over the age of 24 are returning to colleges to update their skills to meet these demands and to obtain a higher education degree. Studies also found that adults participate in higher education for reasons such as “learning a new job-related skill or preparing for a new career altogether” (Fairchild, 2003). Additionally, a more innovatively skilled and degreed employee is more likely to experience promotional opportunities than one who is not. Therefore, “many non-traditional students are out seeking education options that fit with their life and work schedules” (Hanover Research, 2018).
Unfortunately, many challenges exist for these non-traditional adult learners who return to school. These challenges include full-time employment, parenthood, marriage, and/or social obligations that place a strain of demand on their time and focus. Benshoff and Lewis found that “schools often are not structured to accommodate adult students; however, the increase of non-traditional students is causing institutions of higher learning to re-think the focus of academic and student affairs programs.” (1992). Studies by Fairchild have also found that college and university office and class hours have not been meeting the needs of students who work and have families to care for. (2003)
Consequentially, “many surveys show that the non-traditional students present a higher risk of dropping out” (National Audit Office, 2007; Provasnik & Plantly, 2008) and the completion rates of those who start and continue to degree completions remains low. The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that “non-traditional adult students have a significantly higher dropout rate (38/9%) comparing to their counterparts (18.2%)” (NCES; O’Donnell, 2006). Many colleges, to include the Northern Marianas College and universities are developing supportive student programs designed to help adult learners re-acclimate into the academic setting with the goal of retaining enrollment to completion. Evidently, Fairchild found that “institutions should revisit how they provide student services” (2003). The academic support services and retention strategies practiced by colleges like the Northern Marianas College typically include subject matter tutoring, academic advising and at-risk counseling with the goal of ultimately helping them balance school life role with the rest of their life roles.
Tutoring services are specifically designed to provide individualized attention that facilitates student learning success. Although tutoring services are offered at many colleges and universities to students with no charge, there are no extended hour times of which are offered after five o’clock in the evening. Considering that many non-traditional students are enrolled into evening and night classes due to their daily work schedules, numerous non-traditional students are unable to avail of the tutoring services. Evidently, researchers have found that there is also a strong link between a student’s GPA and their intent to persist” (Brown 2002). Studies also found that “a student’s cumulative GPA and intent to persist have the strongest influence on the re-enrollment or persistence of non-traditional students” (Sandler, 1998). According to Farabaugh-Dorkins, “the lower a student’s grade point average (GPA) is, the more likely a non-traditional student is to drop out” (1991). Therefore, in order to assist more of the non-traditional student population, it would be essential for tutoring services to be offered for several hours after five o’clock in the evening.
At-Risk Counseling Services
At-risk counseling services are designed for early intervention and/or student success counselors to be able to work collaboratively with faculty members and instructors to identify and assist students who are at risk of either performing poorly academically or dropping out of college. At-risk counseling includes identifying proper resources to support the student’s academic success and retention as well as reviewing all available options for students so that they may be able to continue their enrollment. Studies by Pont found that “there is a strong correlation between initial education of adults and their motivation to participate in further learning” (2004). Unfortunately, many colleges and universities that offer at-risk counseling services are delivered during the regular working hours (eight o’clock in the morning to five o’clock in the evening). During this time, many non-traditional students who are working are unable to make it to at-risk counseling sessions.
Academic Advising Services
Academic advising services offered at colleges and universities are designed to assist students to map out the courses that need to be taken as well as the order of courses a student will be recommended to take based off of specific degree plans. According to studies by Goncalves & Trunk, it is thought to be more” beneficial to have an advisor who only dealt with non-traditional students” (2014). At the Northern Marianas College (NMC), academic advising services are considered to be the key aspect of college life so that students are fully prepared to excel as learners and as leaders in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and global communities. It is mandated in the enrollment process for degree-seeking individuals and is also a crucial step toward fostering independence, preparation, and achievement. Specifically, at NMC the Academic Advising Services program aims to (1) assist students in the development of meaningful academic plans that are consistent with their educational and life goals; and (2) coordinate advising services among all other faculty advisors across campus sites as well as facilitate opportunities for training and professional development that are compatible with student learning. It is unfortunate however, that similar to tutoring and at-risk counseling services, academic advising services are not offered after regular working hours. Clearly, “developing support office hours during non-working hours and providing dedicated academic advising” is crucial when working towards retaining non-traditional adult learners.
Ultimately, the interaction any student has with an advisor can either make or break the motivation level a student has when deciding on whether he/she will register for a semester or not. The fact of the matter is, many colleges and universities have a limited number of academic advisors who are assigned students based off of degree programs and not by cohort.
Research Question or Hypothesis, Aim, and Objectives
The purpose of this study is to identify the types of academic support and retention strategies that are developed primarily for the purpose of helping and retaining non-traditional adult learners in colleges and universities and to equate their effectiveness to student program completion. Studies found that “adults take an interest in higher education when they have determined that there will be a return on their investment of time, money, and effort” (Tharp, 1988). Additionally, studies by Fairchild found that “adult or non-traditional students compose one of the fastest growing segments of higher education’s student populations” (2003). This study will impact the modification and improvement of these programs to better serve their intended clientele.
Being that the types of academic support and retention strategies include tutoring services, academic advising and at-risk counseling, the objective of this study is to review the need for such services as well as to measure the effectiveness in retaining non-traditional adult learners in college. For this study, the effectiveness of each support and strategy will be measured by (1) the re-enrollment of non-traditional students into the following semester; (2) the earned grade point average (GPA) after each semester; (3) the amount and length of times a non-traditional student avails of the free tutoring services provided; and (4) a Likert scale survey will be given to all participants to measure the attitudes and opinions of the academic advising services provided.