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Increasing adult learners’ success: Retention and belonging

August 9, 2023

Barbara Andrew

Honors College Dean at William Paterson University of New Jersey

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Topic: My university has a high retention rate for online adult learners and for the younger population of the in-person Honors College. The question was how to apply Honors College strategies to boost the retention of in-person adult learners.

Strategies and solutions: Our most recent data show that 30% of our students are adult learners.

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My project looked at applying the successful tactics used in the Honors College to increase adult learners’ retention and completion. The following strategies were identified:

  1. Emphasize end goals in all student communications and interactions.
    Focusing on the end from the beginning, by helping students identify specific end goals or intermediary and building goals, such as a certificate earnable in one year, an internship or work program in the second year, and a senior project, helps students progress. Let the student know that you aim to maximize their schedules’ efficiency and model the planning and problem-solving needed for completion.
  2. Improve academic advising and increase mentoring by cross-training professional advisors, faculty advisors, and student-service staff from offices such as career services and student engagement.
    Have various professionals train each other in strategies that help adult learners. For example, career development staff may have strategies that faculty can use to engage adult learners. Tips for students, such as maximizing the efficiency of students’ course schedules, should be shared via multiple methods, such as short YouTube videos, to accommodate students’ and advisors’ schedules. Appointments with faculty and staff should be simple to reserve and held at a variety of times. We all benefit from developmental advising and watching others solve problems, at every stage of life. Incorporating the idea of developmental advising into our cross-training increases students’ own strategies for success and increases their chances of bonding with a mentor.
  3. Identify ways to engage adult learners in campus activities.
    Employer-sponsored career development workshops help meet students’ needs for involvement at the university. Market civic and service opportunities to adults as well as younger students. Universities should address the financial issues of adult students—who are often ineligible for financial aid—through state and federal grant funding and local business training partnerships. Training partnerships can be branded as university activities.
  4. Identify ways to increase adult learners’ knowledge of faculty members. Adult learners want well-respected academic programs with high-quality faculty and identify with faculty more than with the institution” (Carla Hickman). Faculty development should include pedagogical strategies for adult learners.

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