How 3 colleges keep adult learners on track to graduate

Daily Briefing

How 3 colleges keep adult learners on track to graduate

As more students with non-traditional characteristics step onto campus, some colleges and universities work to ease the path for enrollment and persistence, writes Lisa Ward for the Wall Street Journal.


of students with outside financial, work, or family obligations leave within their first year

Nearly half of students enrolled in colleges and universities are 25 or older, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And for adult learners, the weight of external responsibilities can make college especially difficult to navigate. About 38% of students with outside financial, work, or family obligations leave within their first year, the Lumina Foundation reports.

One reason why could be the traditionally “rigid” academic calendar, according to EAB research. Many community college students have hectic schedules that compete with the centuries-old academic calendar.

That’s why some colleges and universities give students the option to take accelerated or flexible courses. For example, students at Bellevue University can take four-week courses on campus or online, any time of year. Students enrolled in these courses have the benefit of a flexible schedule while still staying on track to graduate in four years.


of undergraduates at Bellevue University are enrolled in a compressed course program

At Bellevue, 63% of the undergraduate student population is enrolled in a compressed course program. And for students in these courses, the graduation rate for a bachelor’s degree in business is 70%, compared with 24% for students in traditional courses.

Other colleges, like the University of Wisconsin—Madison (UW), offer open-entry or early-exit courses designed to move students through lessons at their own pace. Students can skip lessons if they pass assessments and demonstrate mastery of particular skills or competencies. And they can slow down and work with an academic success coach to learn new material, then take the assessment when they’re ready.

Not only do these courses accommodate students’ busy schedules, but they also save students time and money. Students typically move through courses more quickly than would be allowed in a traditional class, and at UW, students taking flexible courses can on average earn a bachelor’s degree six months earlier than students in traditional courses.

A number of community colleges are also adopting accelerated programs, such as 7-8 week mini-mesters, intended to give students more opportunities to accumulate credits and provide non-traditional students with the flexibility they need.

Amarillo College in Texas adopted the mini-mester program and saw a 30-percentage point increase in course completion rates. And as students continued to accumulate credits, they completed at almost a 100% rate (Ward, Wall Street Journal, 3/25/18).

I’m at a local coffee shop across from five high school students—who, from my estimation and eavesdropping, are probably freshman. They are whispering anxiously about college applications (which they haven’t started yet), the cost of college, standardized test scores, and, most curious to me, their options beyond college. Here’s what is striking about their conversation.…

Read more about the adult learner market

Lately, it seems like every two- and four-year college is talking about the adult learner market and how to attract, recruit, and support this elusive student population. By 2022, EAB projects that the number of students aged 25 to 34 will increase by 21 percentage points (with more than twice as much growth in master’s…

Adults without a bachelor’s degree want to go back to college, but worry about the student loans and overall affordability, finds a nationwide survey from Full Circle Research and Champlain College Online. Researchers at Full Circle conducted this online survey with a nationally representative sample of over 1,000 U.S. adults between the ages of 23…

Logging you in