Which program type is best for your adult degree completers?


Which program type is best for your adult degree completers?

As of July 2020, the number of students that have completed some college without earning a credential (SCNC) reached 39 million. Since then, one million SCNC students re-enrolled in college during the 2020-2021 academic year. While we know that only about 10 to 15% of this population will ultimately go back to school, adult degree completers remain an important audience for institutions for both mission-oriented and financial reasons.

For students who do to choose to complete their bachelor’s, they may be looking to advance in their current field, change careers, or just beginning their career and pursuing a bachelor’s degree to open doors professionally and personally. Given these varied motivations, adult degree completion programs fall into two primary buckets:

  • “Generalist” programs such as liberal arts or general studies degrees that support a broad audience of students
  • “Specialist” programs that prepare students for work in a particular career field

But how do you know whether you should offer a general or specialized degree program? The breakdowns below highlight the key differences between these program types and outline how to design an adult degree completion program to meet your students’ needs.

Generalist Degree Programs Best Support Quick Degree Completion

Students enrolled in generalist degree completion programs are typically looking to complete their bachelor’s quickly. Program names vary, but general degree completion programs may be referred to as liberal arts, liberal studies, interdisciplinary studies, or leadership programs. For these students, it’s important to confer skills that can apply to a number of fields and skills. For example, George Mason University offers a Bachelor of Applied Science that allows students to advance an associate degree into a broader professional area of interest like conflict analysis, managerial leadership, and technology and innovation.

An important aspect of generalist degree programs is the focus on credits for prior learning, which allow students to complete the program more quickly. As these programs cover a multitude of subjects, they should, in turn, accept credit for an array of college courses. For example, the University of Mary Washington accepts up to 90 transfer credits. The University accepts credits from past undergraduate coursework, alternative testing, military credit, and other work and life experience.  Broadly applicable coursework along with friendly transfer credit policies characteristic of generalist degree programs will help adult students obtain a bachelor’s degree efficiently.

Specialist Programs Provide In-Depth, Tailored Coursework

Students enrolled in specialist degree programs are often looking to advance within their career field and need a bachelor’s to propel them forward. These programs often take more time to complete due to the specialized coursework involved. A specialist degree program should focus on in-demand areas of study through specific majors, concentrations, or learning tracks. For example, the University of La Verne offers a bachelor’s-level business administration program for adult students which includes concentrations such as business finance, marketing, and business management.

While generalist programs can be difficult to distinguish from programs at large, national players that capture much of the generalist student demand (like Southern New Hampshire University), a benefit of specialized programs is the ability to appeal to local labor market needs and build employer relationships.

While specialist programs should accept as many credits from prior learning as possible, it can be more difficult to align previous coursework to the specialized nature of these bachelor’s degree program. For example, the B.S. in Management at Pepperdine University accepts 60 credits of previous coursework and require students to take 48-60 credits of core courses to graduate. In turn, these programs usually take longer for students to complete and have a more rigid course schedule.

Regardless of whether you offer a general completion program or something more specialized, continue to keep adult degree completers’ motivations top of mind throughout all your program design and marketing efforts.

Ready to find out more?

Learn more about designing programs for adult degree completers.

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