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Strategic Planning
3/15/2016 12:00 AM
BALTIMORE, MD. — Officials at many colleges and universities develop initiatives to make their institutions more attractive to adult learners and to help those students graduate once they enroll. But officials at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities realized they could serve adult students more effectively if they worked together to share strategies and best practices.

BALTIMORE, MD. — Officials at many colleges and universities develop initiatives to make their institutions more attractive to adult learners and to help those students graduate once they enroll. But officials at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities realized they could serve adult students more effectively if they worked together to share strategies and best practices.

Marcia Anderson, advisor for student-directed learning at Metropolitan State University; Carol Lacey, a faculty member in the College of Individualized Studies at Metro; and Ginny Boyum, dean at Rochester Community and Technical College, explained initiatives officials at the multiple campuses worked on together at a session at the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning annual international conference. They were all members of the Competency-Based Education and Credit for Prior Learning team of MNSCU’s Charting the Future Initiative.

The initiative’s work resulted in a statewide blueprint for empowering adult learners and partnerships between institutions, including one between Metro and RCTC.

“Adults come in maybe not being able to articulate competence but knowing they have some,” Anderson said. Getting credit for what they know is one of the top three things adult learners say they are looking for in a college or university, she added.

Strategies MNSCU officials used to scale up programs to recruit and retain adult learners included:

  • Accelerating competence-based learning. That started with encouraging faculty, staff and students to see the value of CBE, Boyum said. Many employees at businesses have many competencies but don’t have degrees.
  • MNSCU offered workshops for faculty members from all units, Boyum said. Officials provided stipends to professors for developing CBE curricula and assessments. With only a 3.8 percent unemployment rate in the area, faculty started to think about how creative ways of granting credit would attract students.

    Small grants helped faculty develop new pathways to award students with credit for competence. The efforts resulted in a 34 percent increase in awards for competence.

  • Engaging faculty to foster buy-in. Campus-based learning projects supported by grants or stipends gave faculty the knowledge they needed to support increased CBE, Boyum said. Officials identified and supported internal experts and campus champions who could provide leadership and momentum, she said.
  • Officials also provided training through organizations including CAEL to help faculty members apply research findings.

  • Marketing pathways viable for adult learners. Institutions developed individualized degree completion and accelerated curricular options, Lacey said. Metro has offered such programs since it was founded, and the individualized programs have the second-highest number of graduates of any program. Other institutions in the system are adopting practices developed at MSU.
  • Students enrolled in the individualized degree program have options for prior learning assessment and transferring in credits from other institutions. Granting those credits tells students, “What you did before is valuable,” she said. “It gives a sense of honor and respect to the students.”

    Officials also changed their approach to marketing. Many recruiters are young and recruit at high schools, Boyum said. Adult learners need someone who looks like them, and the language needs to be modified for recruitment pieces to appeal to adult learners. Important information on the website shouldn’t require too many clicks, and the language there should include terms prospective students will use to search. For example, they won’t search the term “PLA,” Boyum said.

  • Strengthening competence-based and prior learning assessment. Efforts extend to program and general education requirements.
  • In addition, officials are working to extend awareness of standardized tests such as CLEP, DSST and Excelsior and ACE evaluations.

    And they encourage faculty members to look for existing competencies. Those can be within courses, or faculty can waive courses or offer PLA credit.

  • Developing systemwide transfer policies and procedures. Efforts include:
    • Aligning certificates and associate and bachelor’s degree alternatives.
    • Expanding articulation agreements.
    • Working with registrars/student record systems regarding competence-based education and prior learning assessment transcripting and transfer.
    • Systematizing coding across the system.
Generating Opportunities
2/16/2016 12:00 AM

BALTIMORE, MD. — What should your institution charge for prior learning assessment? The answer depends on factors including what you offer and where you offer it, said Becky Klein-Collins, associate vice president for research and policy for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

BALTIMORE, MD. — What should your institution charge for prior learning assessment? The answer depends on factors including what you offer and where you offer it, said Becky Klein-Collins, associate vice president for research and policy for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

CAEL released results of a national survey on PLA. Klein-Collins discussed the findings in PLA Is Your Business: Pricing and Other Considerations for the PLA Business Model at a session at CAEL’s annual international conference.

Co-presenters were Donna Younger, CAEL’s vice president for higher education; Chari Leader Kelley, senior fellow and SIG speaker at CAEL; Nan Travers, director of collegewide academic review at the State University of New York Empire State College; and Vashti Ma’at, academic review coordinator at Empire.

The researchers defined PLA as “the process for evaluating knowledge and skills to award college credit for them.” The knowledge and skills evaluated could come from on-the-job training, independent study, military and volunteer service, training courses and/or certificates, and work experience.

And the evaluation can take a number of forms, including standardized tests, industry-recognized certificates, challenge exams, student portfolios, and consideration of noncollege training.

Value proposition drives pricing

When researchers first looked at the PLA pricing data from 89 institutions, it appeared that the data was completely scattered in terms of the business model and the pricing, Travers said. But then they realized that the consideration of the value proposition was the driving factor behind what institutions charge. Elements of the value proposition include:

  • Validation and empowerment. Research shows that PLA helps students validate who they are. The student’s sense that she is capable of being a good student empowers her.
  • Student motivation. Adult students with PLA credit are 2.5 times more likely to persist to graduation than adult students without PLA credit. It’s especially helpful for Hispanic students. For them, PLA raises the chance they will earn a bachelor’s degree from 6 percent to 47 percent.
  • Recruitment. PLA enables students to reduce costs and complete programs more quickly, and students are attracted to it. Institutions that share information about PLA during recruitment yield good results.
  • Retention. Students who feel connected are more likely to persist and graduate, Travers said. Being recognized for what they know through PLA increases their feeling of connection to the institution. And students with PLA credit typically take about 10 more credits than those without PLA credit, she said. Even if a PLA program costs the institution money, or if the institution just breaks even on it, the institution comes out ahead by offering it once recruitment and retention are factored in, Travers said.

The chart below shows why institutions offer PLA:

The value proposition can drive the design of the PLA program, Younger said. General characteristics of a good PLA program include:

  • Provides a range of options. Students come with varying experiences that can be evaluated using different methods.
  • Transparent. All stakeholders should know policies and procedures.
  • Affordable. Affordable doesn’t mean cheap. But it does mean that students can access the program and the institution can sustain it.
  • Offers student support. Students need to be able to get through the process.
  • Rigorous. The program must be delivered with integrity.

According to Younger, an effective PLA program incorporates the following six elements:

  1. Policies and procedures. Issues addressed by policy include:
    • Purpose.
    • Definition.
    • Rationale.
    • Eligibility.
    • Credit limits.
    • Assessment methods.
    • Transfer and articulation.
    • Fees.
    • Appeals.
  2. Academic criteria. Evaluation for PLA should be based on course learning outcomes and/or other criteria that drive assessment in courses. The evaluation methods should connect with the criteria.
  3. Faculty assessors. They are subject matter experts. Most often, they are discussed with regard to portfolios, but they should also play roles including vetting standardized tests and working with the registrar to consider American Council on Education recommendations.
  4. Student support. This starts when students enter the institution and receive information about PLA and how it might apply to them. Students should not hear about PLA from rumors. Support includes advising, screening and help with portfolio development.
  5. Infrastructure. The PLA process should include a coordinated set of steps, and roles should be clearly delineated.
  6. Oversight and research. Officials need to keep an eye not just on the operations, but also on the program’s impact on student empowerment, development and completion and its impact on the institution. They need to focus on assuring quality and upholding CAEL standards.

Consider approaches to PLA pricing

In its survey of 89 institutions and in-depth interviews with 11 of them, researchers identified three approaches to charging for PLA:

  1. Cover all costs.
  2. Price to sell.
  3. Look to the market to see what others are doing.

Institutions might charge fees for assessment, administration, transcript or training review, transcription, and courses/workshops.

According to Ma’at, key points the research revealed about fees include:

  • Standardized exams. The testing organizations (e.g., College Board, Prometric) charge fees. In addition, among institutions surveyed, 69 percent charge fees for testing, administration and transcription of CLEP and DSST tests. More than half charged only for testing and administration. The median administration fee was $25–$30.
  • Departmental challenge exams. Of institutions surveyed, 63 percent charged only an administration fee, and 23 percent charged no fees. The median administration fee was $100.
  • Portfolio assessment. Fees ranged from $200 to $2,000 per course. The median fee was $720.
  • Credit for military training and occupations. Among respondents, 90 percent did not charge students anything for evaluating this experience.
  • Noncollege training. Among respondents, 72 percent did not charge a fee.
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.
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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