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Student Affairs Today
is part of the Jossey-Bass higher education newsletter series. It highlights best practices in helping students fulfill their potential, plus keeps readers informed of critical legal issues. It is available in print, online and as a PDF delivery. Read More
Enrollment Management Report
is part of the Jossey-Bass higher education newsletter series. It highlights proven strategic enrollment strategies and systems, plus legal briefs to keep enrollment officials out of legal hot water. It is available in print, online and as a PDF delivery. Read More
Programs
1/15/2016 12:00 AM

BALTIMORE — Access to higher education for adult learners has improved dramatically in past years, said Marguerite Weber, vice president for adult and professional programs at Cabrini College. But are programs for adult learners as focused on quality as those for traditional-aged students? “We’ve come a long way in assessing for quality, but do we always make it the highest priority?” she asked.

BALTIMORE — Access to higher education for adult learners has improved dramatically in past years, said Marguerite Weber, vice president for adult and professional programs at Cabrini College. But are programs for adult learners as focused on quality as those for traditional-aged students? “We’ve come a long way in assessing for quality, but do we always make it the highest priority?” she asked.

“Your adult learners are already getting a bad deal,” Weber said. Traditional-aged students will have 50 to 60 years to get a return on their investment. Students who are 50 years old when they graduate won’t have nearly as long. “Their experiences have to be transformative,” she said.

Weber explained how she incorporated the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative into the adult programs at Cabrini, speaking in a presentation at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning annual conference.

LEAP defines high-impact practices that enhance education. High-impact practices include:

  • Learning communities.
  • Collaborative projects.
  • Diversity/global learning.
  • Internships.
  • Service-/community-based learning.
  • Capstones.

These practices are associated with outcomes including:

  • Deep learning.
  • Self-reported gains in general, personal and practical knowledge.
  • Increased perceptions of the level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, and the quality of the supportive environment.
  • Stronger intent to persist.

But many adult learners don’t have access to these experiences, Weber said. Some high-impact practices need to be modified to work in adult programs, she added. Barriers to accessing those practices, as they are often offered, include:

  • Balancing school, work, community and family responsibilities.
  • Lacking out-of-class time on campus. That’s especially true for part-time learners.
  • Encountering financial barriers, especially for low-income learners. “How could I ever study abroad?” adult learners might ask.
  • Lacking knowledge of the benefits of an intentional cocurriculum. Many students, especially those who are first-generation, equate college learning with credit accumulation.
  • Lacking continuity because of transfers. Swirling students may not be pursuing studies where they had their first-year experience, so students in a program do not all have the same foundation.
  • Finding that the gains associated with high-impact practices don’t have much resonance. Those practices may be incorporated in the curriculum in ways designed to enhance the cognitive development levels of students aged 18–22.
  • Perceiving that the rich life experiences of adult learners may not be acknowledged or valued.

But adapted high-impact practices can be very effective for adult learners, Weber said. Among other benefits, they can challenge students’ assumptions about themselves. Many of these students lack confidence in their ability to succeed in college. “The goal is they start to reimagine themselves,” Weber said.

Cabrini programs adapt practices

When Weber looked for ways to adapt high-impact practices to Cabrini’s adult programs, she started with the college’s mission: “Help students live lives of dignity and recognize responsibility to others.” The adapted practices she developed that support that mission are:

  • Adapted blended learning, also called “access pedagogy.” Students take intentionally paired courses. They take three courses per semester; one is a 15-week course, and the other two are seven-and-a-half-week courses. The faculty members for the courses work together, and the courses are taught online.
  • Plus, students meet in person for three hours once a week with a learning mentor. “The face-to-face time doesn’t substitute for class time. It substitutes for homework,” Weber said. “Adults need direction because they may not know how to study.” The meeting time includes activities that work for both the courses the student is taking.

    Overall, the courses are designed so that students spend 39.5 hours on directed learning, 39.5 hours on self-directed learning, 39.5 hours on demonstrating learning, and 2.5 hours on testing. Most of the demonstrating learning occurs in the face-to-face sessions, Weber said.

  • Divergent thinking. “Divergent thinking is the process of discovering multiple resolutions of a paradox,” Weber said. Students are encouraged to bring their life experiences to their problem-solving. For example, a course on food crises and food deserts will be paired with a business class. Assignments in the business class will ask students to design an entrepreneurial approach to addressing a food crisis.
  • Goals of divergent thinking include encouraging students to:

    • Reflect on the limits of individual knowing through valuing a wider world of diverse perspectives.
    • Employ effective help-seeking behaviors and efficient use of resources.
    • Practice critical thinking by engaging in big questions that arise from discovering a world of difference.
    • Develop habits for self-reflection and critical analysis by learning that more good solutions can be discovered.
    • Enhance perceptions of the value of academic challenge.
    • Practice risk-taking, productive failure and recovery.
  • Future-focused approach to prior learning assessment. Cabrini will use the Learning Counts system, but the adult program is new, so no students have been ready to use it yet, Weber said. Once officials get the report back, they will create a just-in-time learning contract to address gaps in what students need.
  • Students will complete reflections, not just on what they learned, but also on how they acquired the knowledge and how it increased their mastery levels.

    The prior learning assessments, reflections and contracts form the basis of matching students for internships and externships where they can gain the knowledge they need. All students complete one or two semester internships or externships. Externships enable them to shadow leaders who have the skills the students are working on.

  • Service learning/servant leadership. “Cabrini was one of the first colleges to require service learning for all students. We’re very proud of that,” Weber said.
  • Adult learners participate in service learning through a required upper-division general education course, Engagement in the Common Good. Students focusing on leadership lead projects that involve traditional undergraduates in service learning.

  • Personal branding capstone. The adult program includes four experiences that build on one another to promote the learning outcomes associated with student-faculty research:
    1. Students explore their academic interests and build a degree-completion plan that includes out-of-class activities that add value to the degree program. They do this during the winter term of their first year.
    2. Students start a learning portfolio to earn alternative credits and explore college-to-career connections. The goals are to help them determine what areas of academic focus are the best fit, what career connects to those passions, and what are the best approaches to preparing for their career.
    3. Students start their internship/externship experience. They engage in workshops and activities that help them build a personal brand, develop a network for career support, and build a personal mentoring system.
    4. Students examine the importance of building a personal brand. They clarify their skill sets, values and aspirations. They practice presentation, interviewing, networking and social-media skills. And they think about involvement in targeted professional associations.

Learn more about LEAP at https://www.aacu.org/leap.

Use these best practices to develop adapted high-impact practices

The following best practices will help you develop and implement adapted high-impact practices for your adult programs:

  • Make a clear commitment to ensuring consistency in the quality of student learning experiences across all of the types of students served by the institution, including older, part-time and commuter students.
  • Reverse-engineering your curricula, starting with outcomes that matter for deep learning, broad learning and personal learning.
  • Eliminate barriers to participation and enhance commitment to completion.
Veterans
11/13/2015 12:00 AM

Given the wide differences among student-veterans in college preparedness, life experience and academic background, having a college campus fully equipped to service student-veterans after active duty may mean enlisting the help of outside organizations.

SAN DIEGO — Given the wide differences among student-veterans in college preparedness, life experience and academic background, having a college campus fully equipped to service student-veterans after active duty may mean enlisting the help of outside organizations. In a session at the recent National Association for College Admission Counseling annual conference, representatives from Yale University as well as the nonprofits Service to School and the Warrior-Scholar Project focused on best practices for preparing and helping veterans enter higher education post-service.

Understanding your student-veterans

Debra Johns, associate director of admissions at Yale University, gave statistics on the national population of veterans. Of the 21.8 million veterans in the country, 2.5 million served recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of the veterans who pursue higher education post-service, 34 percent pursue a four-year degree, compared with 28 percent of the nonmilitary population who pursue higher education, and 43 percent of veterans pursue a two-year degree, compared with 49 percent of nonmilitary students. Veterans are also much more likely to be first-generation college students, with 62 percent of veterans who go on to pursue higher education being first-generation college students, compared with the national average of 43 percent. In addition, veterans are highly clustered in certain areas, with 80 percent of all veterans living in only 28 states, with the top three most populous being, in order, California, Texas and Florida.

Know how your institution can better help veterans gain admittance

Beth Morgan of Service to School works with education centers on military bases to help provide educational services to transitioning veterans. These education centers offer counseling and information; assist service members with figuring out a preferred path to a college degree, assist with financial aid counseling, and assist with any corrections that might need to be made to joint services transcripts. A complementary program, the Transition Goals Plans Success program, offers preseparation counseling; revised benefits briefing to help veterans understand benefits post-service; and three different tracks for postservice success: a higher education track, career tech training track, and entrepreneurship track. Morgan works with active-service members at different points in the military life cycle to help plan and refine plans post-service. “I work with them to figure out what their plans might be and how that would translate to a college and university of choice,” she said.

Anna Ivey, former dean of admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and current staff member at Service to School, has been helping veterans with college applications for more than 15 years. During that time, Ivey has seen many sticking points for veterans with entirely manageable solutions on the college admissions end. For example, one application Ivey worked with was never able to be completed because the school asked for a midyear report from the applicant’s most recent institution, which wasn’t available because the applicant hadn’t been enrolled in an educational institution for more than a decade. Another institution required a report from a guidance counselor from a veteran applicant whose high school guidance counselor had retired and couldn’t be tracked down. In both cases, Ivey said, admissions officials at the institution were not open to hearing their required processes weren’t reasonable for the veteran applicants. “Re-evaluate your admissions processes at the college level and think about if you have an infrastructure that helps all students,” Ivey advised. Ivey went on to state that many colleges, unwittingly, favor 17-year-old applicants and can have requirements that make it close to impossible for older students to reasonably obtain admission. One strategy that might make the process more veteran-friendly would be enlisting the help of on-campus ROTC members to help evaluate veteran transcripts.

Ivey’s work includes helping veterans network, an idea she says many feel allergic to. The Service to School organization provides a built-in network of both fellow veterans and college and university admissions and enrollment officials, as well as firsthand mentoring from other veterans who have gone through the program. Ivey has helped more than 600 applicants find their own best college fit. For colleges and universities looking to increase their numbers of veterans on campus, Ivey suggested pairing with organizations such as VetLink, which partners with undergraduate institutions to create a pipeline of college-ready veterans. VetLink can also help interpret military service records and transcripts for admissions and enrollment staff who may not have much familiarity with joint service transcripts.

Learn from real-life veteran experiences

Christopher Howell spent nine years in the Australian army in special operations before he transferred to the University of Sydney, and from there to Yale. While at Yale, Howell partnered with a fellow student to create the Warrior-Scholar Project, a boot camp specifically designed to help prepare veterans to enter a higher education institution. The boot camps currently run trainings on 11 different campuses around the country. Howell estimated that fully 20 percent of participants aren’t sure if they intend to attend college post-service before entering the program, but almost all go on to apply afterward. Boot camps vary between one- and two-week-long segments, 14–16 hours per day, and are geared toward facilitating a transition from the military, increasing veteran graduation rates, and prepping leaders in the classroom.

The boot camps are structured much like military boot camps to help provide a familiar framework for participants, and all admittances are based on need rather than merit. “Veterans have a tendency to massively underestimate what they’re capable of in college,” Howell said. “We’re here to help buoy their confidence.” Currently, most programs are based on humanities studies, with developing programs in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. A great deal of the work the Warrior-Scholar Project does is focused on developing social and emotional mindsets appropriate for higher education that might be different from those instilled in the military. Since 2012, the Warrior-Scholar Project has worked with 300 veterans, and all who entered college after the boot camp have since stayed in college.

Veteran finds success turning to nontraditional admissions

Ryan Pearson, a 12-year veteran of Navy active duty currently enrolled at Yale, spoke about his experience transitioning from active duty to higher education. When Pearson sought advising for preparing for a four-year university from the military, he was pushed toward online learning for a variety of reasons: convenience of online learning for an irregular work schedule; the flexibility of Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges in accepting credits between other SOC institutions; and the benefits of Tuition Assistance and deployed distance learning. However, Pearson said, the negative aspects of online learning were not laid out to him: skepticism from college admissions staff regarding the rigor of online learning courses and the potential problem of interpreting why he had attended so many institutions, since his transcript had a patchwork of credits.

Pearson received very little guidance regarding which college would be the right fit for him. Pearson’s own criteria involved searching for the best political science programs in the country, as this was his chosen field; cost of attendance and Yellow Ribbon eligibility; and institutions featuring a nontraditional admissions program, which might better assess the holistic potential of veterans and not just high school transcripts and SAT scores. Pearson added that for other veterans, top concerns might include:

  • Spouse’s career.
  • Potentially uprooting children to a new environment.
  • Employment opportunities.

Pearson perceived himself to be at a severe disadvantage when applying for admission because he had poor high school grades, it had been 12 years since he had occupied a classroom, and only one of the institutions to which he applied was willing to accept his joint services transcript. Pearson estimated the overall cost of his applications to be $4,000 to $5,000. Pearson ultimately applied to eight schools, four as a transfer student and four under nontraditional admissions processes that took a more holistic view of his student profile, including flying out to campuses for in-person interviews. As a transfer student, he was rejected by three out of four institutions. Under the nontraditional admissions banner, he was accepted to four out of four institutions.

Pearson’s conclusions, based on his experiences, are:

  • Communicating accurate cost of tuition, including the Yellow Ribbon program (Pearson referred potential students to http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/yellow_ribbon.asp), will help attract veterans to your universities.
  • Permitting joint services transcripts benefits both the student and the college.
  • Because the typical veteran profile is very different from a typical transfer student, having more holistic admissions processes helps more accurately assess veteran potential on campus.

What does it mean to be a veteran-friendly campus?

Pearson said in order to be really “veteran-friendly,” a campus must first actually admit veterans on campus, and second, provide cultural transition opportunities such as a veterans association or built-in community. The entire panel echoed Pearson’s last point. Ivey pointed out that in a recent ranking of the top-five most veteran-friendly schools, three had veteran graduation rates of under 30 percent. Ivey stressed the key to being a veteran-friendly campus is found more in the number of veterans or nontraditional students enrolled and not a veterans service center or the personnel dedicated to student-veterans. Panelists also recommended talking to actual veterans on campus to discover what might make your campus more veteran-friendly. “There needs to be a cultural shift around diversity,” Ivey said. “It would be unacceptable for a campus to have one black or gay student on campus. That’s how we should feel about veterans.”

Generating Opportunities
10/15/2015 12:00 AM

Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina started the fall term with record enrollment.

The college is in a growing county with high demand, said Bryan Ryan, senior vice president of curriculum education services. And officials have been strategic about meeting that demand. Efforts have included new buildings and increased online offerings. A new campus is currently under construction. And Wake Tech’s president is very focused on innovation and on empowering faculty and staff to improve how things are done, Ryan said.

Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina started the fall term with record enrollment.

The college is in a growing county with high demand, said Bryan Ryan, senior vice president of curriculum education services. And officials have been strategic about meeting that demand. Efforts have included new buildings and increased online offerings. A new campus is currently under construction. And Wake Tech’s president is very focused on innovation and on empowering faculty and staff to improve how things are done, Ryan said.

Initiatives that have helped Wake Tech grow enrollment and meet community needs include:

  • Applied benchmarking. All employees identify a challenge in their discipline or job area as part of their annual performance review. They discuss the issue with their supervisor who approves it as a focus for a project. Sometimes, employees work together on group projects. Once the project is approved, they find someone at another community college, university or business who is doing that thing better. They bring back the lessons they learn and apply them at Wake Tech. Currently, 892 mini improvement projects that resulted from the applied benchmarking initiative are underway. They address issues such as getting the right program mix and communicating effectively with students. Wake Tech recently implemented a faculty rank process that grew out of the initiative. Its goal is for the college to have a way to reward faculty members without requiring them to move into administration, Ryan said.
  • Advisory committees. Employers and others from the community work with faculty and staff members to help determine what programs need to be started, terminated or changed to keep pace with the marketplace. About 50 committees with 550 advisors help the college meet local business needs. The college has a handbook that tells department chairs what kind of advisors to recruit and what types of information to gather from them. Once a year Ryan’s office hosts a dinner for the advisory board members. The boards meet at that event, and a speaker addresses them. The event’s goal is to remind them of the value they bring to the college and share ways they can help make the college and programs better. The committees also meet several other times a year.
  • As an example of the committees’ value, officials recruited local business leaders with specific expertise to advise them about a new program in business analytics funded by a Department of Labor grant. The committee members were asked how the college can train technicians to use the data analytics tools local industries have in place. Officials wanted to make sure they were on the right track with the program, Ryan said.

  • Faculty engagement. With the current focus for higher education, and especially community colleges, on completion rather than just access, Ryan has created initiatives in which faculty members engage students and boost retention.
  • The college has a first-year experience program to get students engaged from the beginning. And students who need developmental courses might be asked to take a certain number of workshops that will help them succeed.

    Faculty members also work with students who need academic support at an individualized learning center. Plus faculty members help students at centers focused on science, technology, engineering and math; writing; and public speaking and effective communications.

    Faculty members who work with honors students engage students outside of class. By mutual agreement between the student and faculty member, the students do extra work. Sometimes they participate in research and sometimes they give a presentation at the end of the semester. That gives faculty members the opportunity to work with students who want to go above and beyond, and it gives students the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty members.

    And some faculty members work with students on service learning projects outside the classroom.

  • Careful planning. After years of growth, officials have learned to predict what growth might look like, Ryan said. Unlimited growth is not possible because the resources are not available. Officials set a growth target as early as possible. Once deans and department chairs know the target, they can make plans to hire needed faculty and determine whether they need to make adjustments between programs. Officials figure out how many faculty members they can afford to hire and create a schedule based on their best estimate of what classes students will need. As students register, department chairs look closely at the patterns that emerge. If there are long wait lists for classes or imbalances in registration among campuses, they consider whether changes make sense. They might be able to add sections, or they might cancel classes with low enrollment. When the payment deadline comes, students who have not paid have their registrations cancelled and have to re-register. The department chairs look carefully again to see if the demands for courses, times and campuses change as the students re-register.
  • Besides looking at programs when planning for growth, officials also look at market segments such as age cohorts. That tells them where they might find potential students to tap. Over the years, targeted outreach has resulted in a larger proportion of traditional-aged students at Wake Tech, Ryan said.

Email Bryan Ryan at bkryan@waketech.edu.

Leaders & Innovators: Paul Kyle, dean of student services and success, Johnson County Community College
3/23/2015 12:00 AM

At one time, officials at Johnson County Community College, which enrolls many adult learners, could take an “If we build it, they will come” approach to recruitment. In fact, the college didn’t have a recruiter until 2007, said Paul Kyle, the dean of student services and success. But officials realized recruiting was necessary. And they needed to do a better job retaining students.

At one time, officials at Johnson County Community College, which enrolls many adult learners, could take an “If we build it, they will come” approach to recruitment. In fact, the college didn’t have a recruiter until 2007, said Paul Kyle, the dean of student services and success. But officials realized recruiting was necessary. And they needed to do a better job retaining students.

Now Kyle and officials from across the institution are creating a strategic plan that integrates enrollment and academic goals. Officials on the academic and services side realized they had to work together.

“You do your thing and we’ll do our thing and hope it works out” wasn’t an effective approach, Kyle said.

The strategic planning initiative requires culture change to get units to collaborate — both to create the plan and to pursue cross-division efforts to achieve goals.

Kyle heads the enrollment team for the strategic planning process. His team includes officials from academics, curriculum, marketing and other units. The enrollment team is focusing on a comprehensive recruitment plan, and the academic team is looking at ways to boost retention. But they realize those go hand in hand, Kyle said. Officials on all the committees focus on the question “How does it impact students?”

“It’s not about us, what is convenient for us in terms of what we offer. It’s about maintaining the quality of education,” Kyle said.

JCCC’s planning and culture change initiatives are driven in part by hard economic facts. Students are asking “What’s in it for me?” Kyle said. Officials need to do a better job of helping them to see how college will help them and their families down the road.

And officials also need to do a better job interacting with students early on — thinking in terms of retaining students while they are still prospects.

Kyle and his colleagues are determining what they can do to prepare students before they get to the classroom and to help them understand the institutional culture before their first day of school. When students drop out, 80 percent of the time the cause is not in the classroom, Kyle said.

To retain students, officials must first convince them that they are capable of going to college and that they have the assets to succeed. Students ask, “Do people like me go here?” If they aren’t clear that the answer is yes, one little thing can cause them to falter, Kyle said.

To improve prospective students’ first interactions with the college, Kyle is creating purposeful activities that engage them. Research shows that if a student connects with another student, a faculty member and a staff member, the college has a 44 percent better chance of retaining him.

So when prospects visit JCCC, officials try to help them make those connections. Visitors are given brightly colored backpacks to wear around campus. Faculty and staff members are encouraged to say hello to anyone they see wearing those backpacks.

Admissions staff members also guide visitors to areas where they will meet a staff member, a faculty member and a student. If all three of those people say the same thing, one might say it in a way that the prospective student hears best, Kyle said.

“It’s relational,” Kyle said about recruiting and retaining students. “That’s not always easy.”

Also, when prospective students visit the success center, an advocate sits down to speak with them. Some adults might not want to go on the typical campus tour. The advocate will help the student begin to design a plan, Kyle said. Or if an orientation is about to start, the advocate will invite the student to participate. And before the prospect leaves, the advocate will help him plan his next step for enrolling.

Help students adjust to institution culture

If adult learners can cross the gap from their culture of origin to the culture of the institution, they have better chances of success in college, Kyle said. There are two questions they need to be able to answer to make the transition:

  • Do people like me go here? “If they can’t answer that, they probably won’t come or stay,” Kyle said. If they enroll, they will look for reasons why they shouldn’t be in college after all.
  • Do I have the assets to succeed? Many adults juggle school with work, and must get children to school every morning. “If you can do that, you can do everything,” Kyle said. But the students might not have realized how they can apply their skills to going to class and studying.
  • They also need to understand that college officials aren’t asking them to leave their families behind, he said.

For more information, you may contact Paul Kyle at pkyle@jccc.edu.

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  • Meet the Editor

    Joan Hope
    Managing Editor

    Joan Hope became editor of Recruiting and Retaining Adult Learners in 2014. She brings years of experience in higher education and journalism to her work.
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