Higher-ed leaders must continue to find ways to support online learners and non-traditional students--a crucial demographic of learners

Improving the non-traditional student experience in 3 steps

Higher-ed leaders must continue to find ways to support online learners and non-traditional students--a crucial demographic of learners

Each year, we share our 10 most-read stories. Not surprisingly, many of this year’s Top 10 focused on microcredentials, the student experience, non-traditional students, and the post-pandemic campus. This year’s 9th most-read story focuses on improving the student experience for non-traditional students.

Many college students have access to a traditional learning environment, which often includes attending class in lecture halls, collaborating with peers and professors in person or taking exams at a scheduled time in the classroom. Although this approach works for some learners, this traditional model isn’t ideal for everyone. Non-traditional students pursuing a degree are often juggling multiple day-to-day responsibilities like working a full-time job or managing family obligations, which makes it difficult to earn their degree through a standard model. Online learning is an option that can help break down barriers many of these students face when wanting to skill-up and take the next step in their careers. 

As leaders in higher education, we must continue to find ways to support this crucial demographic of learners by offering online learning options, providing mentorship experiences, and ensuring equitable access to higher education.

Offer online learning options to meet students where they are

With the evolving student landscape, non-traditional students are thriving with flexible, affordable online education. These learners may be parents or full-time workers pursuing their degree who need the flexibility of online higher education options. According to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 1 in 10 college students in the United States are 40 years-old or older. By 2027, it’s anticipated that more than 3 million students will fall within this demographic. Additionally, data shows us that 4.3 million undergraduate students are parents and 44 percent of them also work full-time.

A competency-based online learning model allows students to complete their degree and courses at their own pace and on their own time. Programs can be adapted to best serve the student upon graduation. Many online universities are already well-equipped to be flexible and incorporate new and evolving skills, but this must remain a priority so students can graduate with job-ready skills.

It’s important higher education leaders continue to adapt and reach the constant growing pool of non-traditional students, both for student success and continued enrollments.

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