jossey-bass

Stay up to date with
Recruiting & Retaining Adult Learners

  • Get advice from colleagues on handling critical challenges in serving mature learners.
  • Find ideas about how to manage your unit effectively despite a strained budget
  • Read news of pending legislation and regulations that could impact your institution
  • and more
Use discount code RRALW5 and SAVE 20%! SUBSCRIBE NOW!

Other Products of Interest

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
Generating Opportunities
12/2/2014 12:00 AM

Over the last several years, many University of Wisconsin System institutions have focused on nontraditional-aged students as an important population of opportunity to advance institutional college-completion goals. However, UW System data revealed second-year retention rates for adult students lagged behind rates for all UW degree seekers.

For example, the first-to-second-year retention rate for nontraditional-aged new freshmen who entered UW System institutions between 2005 and 2009 was 23 percent lower than for new freshmen overall.

Over the last several years, many University of Wisconsin System institutions have focused on nontraditional-aged students as an important population of opportunity to advance institutional college-completion goals. However, UW System data revealed second-year retention rates for adult students lagged behind rates for all UW degree seekers.

For example, the first-to-second-year retention rate for nontraditional-aged new freshmen who entered UW System institutions between 2005 and 2009 was 23 percent lower than for new freshmen overall.

National data suggests that adult students who earn credit through prior learning assessment graduate at higher rates and progress more quickly toward degrees than those students who do not receive such credit. That’s according to Fueling the Race to Postsecondary Success: A 48-Institution Study of Prior Learning Assessment and Adult Student Outcomes, a report by Rebecca Klein-Collins for the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

So UW System officials identified PLA as an important tool in the recruitment, retention and graduation of nontraditional-aged students. The Prior Learning Assessment Expansion Initiative was launched in October 2010, funded in part by the Lumina Foundation for Education, to serve as the UW System’s primary strategy to expand the availability and utilization of prior learning assessment opportunities. The Initiative supports University of Wisconsin System institutions’ goals to better serve and improve graduation rates for nontraditional-aged students.

PLAE Initiative provides consistency

The primary goal of the PLAE Initiative is to increase the number of credits earned through PLA by nontraditional-aged students at UW System institutions.

Prior to the launch of the PLAE Initiative, a relatively small number of Wisconsin students earned credit through the prior learning assessment — except through Advanced Placement exams.

Some UW institutions accepted other standardized exams, such as the College Level Examination Program, or allowed students to demonstrate prior learning through course-based departmental exams. Only three of the 14 degree-granting institutions offered portfolio-based assessment options to students.

Additionally, campus approaches to PLA were piecemeal and inconsistent, which threatened the credibility of the process. And there was no UW System policy to support the transfer of credit awarded for prior learning from one UW System institution to another, an important problem given the transfer patterns of students within the UW System.

To sustain best practices in relation to PLA, reinforce the credibility of the process, and create an environment in which transfer of PLA would be supported, participants in the PLAE Initiative prioritized the establishment of shared principles, practices and policies as an important first step in increasing use of PLA at individual institutions.

Wisconsin statute provides institutional chancellors and their faculty authority over curriculum and academic processes, so PLA processes must be developed within institutional governance structures. As the UW System considered policy and practice options to advance expansion of PLA, staff recognized a need to balance systemwide coordination with institutional autonomy to implement programming.

Consequently, the PLAE Initiative incorporated a three-part strategy to ensure participation and interaction at multiple levels of the system and institutions. The strategy included the formation of two systemwide committees as well as the implementation of the PLA Institutional Pilot Program. The committees formed were the faculty-led PLA Academic Planning and Policy Task Force and the cross-functional faculty/staff-led PLA Advisory and Implementation Committee.

The committees provided leadership to develop academic principles and guidelines, and the Pilot Program gave nine institutions an opportunity to test the impact of the principles and policies.

The Task Force emphasized a set of quality principles that, when implemented, could produce a greater acceptance and utilization of PLA. UW Pilot Program institutions and the Advisory Committee applied these principles and analyzed them in practice.

Through their research, the Advisory Committee and Pilot Program institutions uncovered important differences in approach to PLA. For example, some PLA programs are housed in particular departments or colleges, while other programs are institution-based. Consequently, student pathways into PLA may differ, and these differences may affect how many students learn about PLA and how many credits students earn through PLA.

Considering differing practices, the project found that building faculty and staff awareness, understanding and confidence in the PLA process was critical to increasing student access to PLA opportunities. Shared practices found to improve faculty and staff confidence in PLA include:

  • Ensuring the assessment of student learning is performed by a disciplinary expert.
  • Supporting quality assessment methods by providing continuous training and professional development.
  • Emphasizing how PLA measures learning, not experience, and is comparable to assessment that takes place in the college classroom. That includes identifying commonly accepted assessment principles and defining how quality conventional and PLA practices align.
  • Demonstrating how PLA can measure different levels of achievement. Officials compared widely accepted learning process theories and applied these processes to prior learning assessment practices.
  • Explaining how PLA can be used across disciplines. Officials identified the types of program-level assessment practices most often used within a discipline at the program level.
  • Recognizing how PLA supports enrollment at institutions of higher education and demonstrating improved retention rates of nontraditional-aged students.
  • Establishing the norm that student portfolios should be composed of artifacts (evidence) and reflections (writing) that demonstrate the achievement of learning outcomes.
  • Sharing assessment practices by developing a repository of portfolio-evaluation tools.

Shared transcription, transfer rules provide consistency

The University of Wisconsin System Prior Learning Assessment Advisory Committee included representatives from enrollment management and Registrar’s Offices, and issues related to transfer and transcription were central to the conversation. In addition to developing shared principles as a means to establish trust between transferring institutions, the group discussed practical issues regarding the transcription of credit for prior learning.

The PLA Advisory and Implementation Committee observed the significance of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers–American Council on Education joint transfer standards, noting two guidelines particularly relevant to the transcription and transfer of PLA:

  • The sending institution has a responsibility to furnish sufficient information for the receiving institution to judge the quality and the quantity of the student’s work.
  • Transfer decisions should be student-centered, striving for appropriate balance among fairness, consistency, flexibility, good educational practice and academic program integrity.

The PLA Advisory and Implementation Committee examined current practices across the UW System and found the following:

  • PLA falls into three categories: internal assessments that are administered within the institution, internal review of external credit recommendations, and external assessment by standardized exam. For the purpose of transcription and transfer, it is important to differentiate between these categories.
  • Acceptance of transfer credit for prior learning might depend on the source of the assessment, what information is available on the transcript or elsewhere in the student records, and information regarding learning assessed and the assessment methodology.
  • Decision-making regarding transfer of prior learning credit or interinstitutional agreements must take place at the department and provost levels within established governance structures. But the participation of registrars in the PLA process is critical to ensure transcription policies are feasible and appropriately capture the demonstrated learning or coursework competencies.

In summary, the PLA Task Force and the PLA Advisory and Implementation Committee concurred and recommended that:

  • Whenever possible, credit awarded for prior learning should be transcribed as a course equivalent.
  • Institutions awarding PLA credits will retain records and documents relating to the assessment and credit award.
  • Credit awarded for prior learning that is assessed internally by an institution within the UW System should be considered equitable to credit awarded based on classroom learning assessment. And transfer credit for prior learning should be evaluated for transfer in accordance with the same principles.
  • The receiving institution determines how the transfer credits will apply to the degree.
  • Credits earned through any form of PLA appear at the top of transcripts, within a category of Other.

Source: This article first appeared in Enrollment Management Report, a sister publication of Recruiting & Retaining Adult Learners, published by Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand.

Retention
11/13/2014 12:00 AM

Adult learners at open-enrollment institutions often arrive lacking basic college readiness. They may have been out of school for many years, so their academic skills may be rusty, or they may simply have failed to acquire a sufficient degree of knowledge in core subjects during previous schooling. As a result, they are not ready to enroll in college-level courses.

This is the case for the majority of students who attend Cerritos College in California. The institution assesses about 7,000 incoming students each year in the areas of math, reading and English, and the majority fall below college levels. However, students tend to be most deficient in the area of math. In fact, many students lacked even basic arithmetic skills, placing three to four levels below basic college-level math.

Adult learners at open-enrollment institutions often arrive lacking basic college readiness. They may have been out of school for many years, so their academic skills may be rusty, or they may simply have failed to acquire a sufficient degree of knowledge in core subjects during previous schooling. As a result, they are not ready to enroll in college-level courses.

This is the case for the majority of students who attend Cerritos College in California. The institution assesses about 7,000 incoming students each year in the areas of math, reading and English, and the majority fall below college levels. However, students tend to be most deficient in the area of math. In fact, many students lacked even basic arithmetic skills, placing three to four levels below basic college-level math.

As a result, many students had to take numerous remedial math courses before they could enroll in college-level math classes. And because of the high number of students needing math remediation, there were often insufficient sections of those courses to meet the demand. After struggling to get into those courses and spending semesters doing work that didn’t count toward their programs of study, many got discouraged and dropped out.

Graciela Vasquez, the director of adult education and diversity programs; and Norberto Nuñez and Scott Mackay, two instructors in the division, spoke at this year’s American Association of Community Colleges conference, explaining how they tackled the problem. If you offer developmental courses, their strategy could help you boost success rates in those classes, helping students progress into for-credit classes faster.

Traditionally, the college offered students needing math remediation semester-long lecture courses through the math department based on how they did in a placement exam.

Although they were developmental courses, they still counted toward students’ financial aid caps, slowing their progress on college-level courses in other subject areas. Students were also required to enroll in a concurrent study skills course. A close tie between those courses and the Success Center and participation in learning communities helped students along, but not at the rate or with the level of success administrators wanted.

“Many students were still not reaching the college level,” Vasquez said.

Today, remedial math courses look a lot different. For one, they were moved out of the math department and into the noncredit side of the house. That made sense because the classes now don’t count toward students’ financial aid caps. Plus, students pay only a lab fee of $40 per course. And no record of the courses goes on their official transcripts.

To address the cost of materials, an open-source textbook was created by a Cerritos instructor and is made available in electronic format.

The courses are also no longer just lecture-based. Rather, they are hybrid courses that still contain a traditional lecture component, but also include lab work. The study skills support is integrated, so there’s no need for the concurrent class that students previously had to take. And the labs are conducted with direct support from the Success Center, so students now become familiarized with the center and its services by mere virtue of being in a remedial course.

Classes run for six-, nine- and 12-week sessions, so students can progress through them faster and choose whatever option fits their needs best. Plus, that leaves plenty of time before the end of the semester for students to register for the next remedial course they need, avoiding a mad grab for available spots in the limited number of course sections.

The lab portion of the course is unique in that each student is assigned modules that are individually tailored to address their specific skill gaps identified in their placement test. The modules can be completed at students’ individual pace. That’s critical because for students placing in the lowest level of remedial math, there’s no bottom, so students come with a wide range of skills and gaps.

“Some of these are students who graduated high school but are, at best, only able to do middle school math,” Nuñez said.

Students work on the modules during lab times so they can get immediate help from instructors when they run into problems. But they can also use the Success Center to work on the material independently and access tutoring help as needed. The center is open for 12 hours a day, five days a week. Additionally, students may access the online content 24/7 from any computer, so they can work through modules and practice their math skills from home whenever they want.

The modules, which are part of Pearson’s MyFoundationsLab®, provide students with an easy way to contact instructors for help without exiting the program. It also provides positive reinforcement as students move through the material. Yellow stars signify completed sections, while pencil icons next to modules in a list signify that those modules still need to be completed.

An orientation is offered at the beginning of the courses to get students acquainted with the program, but Nuñez noted that it’s very easy to maneuver, and students usually figure it out very quickly.

Students are graded on a pass/no-pass system. Instead of a final exam at the end of the course, they retake the math placement test. That easily shows their increase in knowledge from their first attempts at the placement exam and determines what their following course should be.

The online lab offers students a skills check, so students can see exactly what areas they could use some additional practice in. That’s key to preparing them to retake the placement test. Post-tests also let students prepare to master the placement exam.

The new model was piloted in the fall of 2012. Surprisingly, many students began placing two to three levels higher.

“Not all students need the entire term to build up their skills to the next level, so instructors could assign modules covering material from the next class up,” Mackay explained.

In fact, among the 318 students enrolled in the lowest developmental courses in the fall of 2013, 100 percent demonstrated significant improvement; 73 percent moved up one or more levels; and of those that moved up one or more levels, nearly half moved up two levels after retaking the placement test.

What’s more, 90 percent of students found the online lab easy to use; 82 percent reported satisfaction with their level of progress; and 88 percent said they would recommend the course to others.

“Students become more self-confident and motivated,” Vasquez said. “As they see their improvement in the placement test, they begin saying, ‘I can do this.’”

Revamping remedial courses required collaboration across institution

Moving developmental math courses from the math department to the noncredit division seemed at first counterintuitive to some faculty and administrators at Cerritos College. But the move has drastically increased student success and motivation, by helping students avoid premature caps on their financial aid awards, allowing them various accelerated term options, and keeping developmental courses from showing up on transcripts.

If you’re looking for ways to more closely marry your institution’s noncredit unit to your credit-bearing, adult-oriented programs, this could be a model worth emulating.

“It’s a very collaboration-dependent program,” Vasquez said.

For one, the math department had to be persuaded to give up control of the courses to the noncredit division. Today, some of the instructors still come from the math department, while others come from the noncredit division, but the courses are offered through the noncredit unit.

A test run in the fall of 2012 helped allay fears of moving the program to the noncredit side of the house, because student success in the placement tests soared after participating in the redesigned courses. The key, according to the presenters, is showing how making developmental courses true noncredit offerings helps students in need of remediation move to credit-bearing courses faster and more successfully.

The collaborations don’t end there. For example, the Adult Education and Diversity Programs division is responsible for dealing with scheduling and registration, providing instructors, conducting student outreach, and maintaining the online lab.

Meanwhile, the college’s Success Center provides staff support for labs, including tutors; provides faculty training; and tracks students’ lab hours. And the assessment office conducts outreach and referrals and administers placement tests for students retaking the exams after finishing the remedial courses.

For more information, you may contact Graciela Vasquez at gvasquez@cerritos.edu, Norberto Nuñez at nnunez@cerritos.edu, and Scott Mackay at smackay@cerritos.edu.

Retention
9/18/2014 12:00 AM
Photo of a member of the military carrying textbooks.
Military and veteran students need supports tailored to their lives. Credit: Sean Locke Photography/ Shutterstock.com.

As more veterans and active-duty military service members enroll in higher education, and particularly in distance learning programs, institutions across the country are under increasing pressure to rethink how they serve and support these growing student populations.

The Online Learning Consortium, formerly known as the Sloan Consortium, recently brought together expert panelists over a four-part webinar to share best practices for serving these students. If you’re looking for ways to make your institution more veteran- and military-friendly, their insights and advice could prove helpful.

Military and veteran students need supports tailored to their lives. Credit: Sean Locke Photography/Shutterstock.com.As more veterans and active-duty military service members enroll in higher education, and particularly in distance learning programs, institutions across the country are under increasing pressure to rethink how they serve and support these growing student populations.

The Online Learning Consortium, formerly known as the Sloan Consortium, recently brought together expert panelists over a four-part webinar to share best practices for serving these students. If you’re looking for ways to make your institution more veteran- and military-friendly, their insights and advice could prove helpful.

Following are our favorite tips and strategies shared by presenters.

1. Understand who your students are

You can’t provide effective support services to your veterans and military students and their families if you don’t first know who they are and what challenges they face. That’s according to Dawn Bilodeau, chief of Department of Defense Voluntary Education. She’s responsible for oversight and administration of adult, nontraditional, voluntary, continuing and postsecondary education programs for the DOD worldwide. She’s also the spouse of a veteran.

Military students are typically employed full-time, and unless they have a combat-acquired disability, that’s often the case for veterans as well. That means that they’re more likely to attend college on a part-time basis, taking on average three courses per year. Also, the majority complete their postsecondary education only after leaving the military, and after attending multiple institutions, she said.

However, Jorge Trevino, a lecturer and advisor at the Penn State World Campus and a Navy veteran, noted that even though students may have acquired disabilities as a result of their military service, they are not likely to see themselves as “disabled.” For that reason, getting them to self-disclose and seek out disability accommodations that can help them succeed may require a different approach, he said. Focusing on access rather than disability in conversations with such students can help.

Kathy Snead, the director of Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges, additionally noted that many military students and veteran students are also first-generation students. They may be entirely unfamiliar with everything they must do to enroll. She suggests creating a checklist and time line so they don’t miss any important steps or deadlines.

These students, like other adults, may also need an orientation to online learning, help with IT compatibility and access issues, and tutorial and remedial assistance.

2. Optimize prior learning assessment opportunities

Carol A. Berry, director of Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support — or DANTES — a Department of Defense program, believes institutions should put PLA opportunities front and center, since veterans and military students bring so much real-world expertise to the table.

She also noted that for military students, often in combat positions, attending class virtually and doing homework is difficult. “When studying in these conditions, you have to maximize your time,” she said. “PLA makes sense because at the end of the day, it’s about completing that degree.”

But institutions should go beyond prior learning assessment portfolios and College Level Examination Programs tests, and offer students additional ways of earning PLA credits, she said. For instance, end-of-course exams meant to assess everything students learned over the semester could be easily adapted for students who feel they have the knowledge covered in those courses.

Plus, students could complete massive open online courses or access other open educational resources on their own schedule and free of charge, then take those end-of-year exams through their institutions for credits, she suggested.

Institutions could additionally help students convert professional credentials and military training into college credits to help them make speedier progress toward their degrees, she noted. The new Joint Services Transcript for members of the Army, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Navy can facilitate that process, she said.

The JST provides evidence for postsecondary institutions of learning that has taken place through military training and occupational experiences. The DOD contracts with the American Council on Education to validate such experiences via its Military Evaluations Program, and issues credit recommendations.

3. Provide support services specific to veterans, military students

Like other adult learners, veterans and active-duty military students must juggle myriad competing responsibilities, but they also face some very unique challenges. Institutions should provide support services to address those specific challenges, noted Kelly Wilmeth, the associate vice president of stateside military support and partnerships for the University of Maryland University College. She suggested offering:

  • Dedicated advising teams designed to meet the needs of veterans, military students and their family members. Advisors should understand that both groups have different and unique needs and should be available 24/7 to accommodate students in different time zones and with odd schedules.
  • Integrated career and academic advising. Advisors should be able to sit down individually with students to figure out how their intended majors integrate into career opportunities and paths, she said.
  • Individualized degree mapping. Advisors shouldn’t help students only with major selection, but should also help them plan out their coursework so students understand what their academic life will look like as much as two or three years out.
  • Help transitioning from active-duty to civilian status. Institutions should “try to ensure a soft landing for them,” she said.
  • Front-line staff on military installations who can provide a full suite of student services. These should include application and registration assistance, academic advising, evaluation of military experience and other sources of transfer credits, and help understanding their tuition assistance benefits.
  • On-campus and virtual veterans resource centers. These should provide one-stop shopping for students, offering academic support, career advising, mentoring, information about educational benefits, and the chance to network with their peers.
  • Student groups. Student Veterans of America chapters provide student-veterans at institutions across the country support and advocacy. Reach out to your veterans and encourage them to create a local chapter.
  • VetSuccess on Campus program participation. Administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs, this program aims to assist veterans and their dependents succeed in postsecondary education through the coordinated delivery of on-campus benefits assistance and counseling. Through the program, institutions can also have vocational rehabilitation counselors embedded on campus to provide on-site support.
  • A Veterans Certification Office. This unit should perform the critical function of explaining the benefits associated with each chapter of the GI Bill and serve as a liaison between student-veterans and the VA.
  • Veteran and military student orientations. These orientations should address issues specific to these student populations, plus connect students with advisors, faculty and others on campus who can provide assistance and support while students are enrolled.
Leaders & Innovators: Rita Serotkin, associate VP/dean, Center for Continuing Education and Summer School, Guilford College
12/19/2014 12:00 AM

Rita Serotkin, who has worked in adult higher education for much of her adult life, became an adult learner in 2001 at the age of 54 when she decided to finally pursue her doctoral degree. She had always wanted to, but there was always a reason to put it off.

“The truth of it is that I was scared — just absolutely terrified. ‘A doctorate? Me? Am I smart enough?’ These are the things that ran through my head,” she said. “It had been 30 years since I’d gotten my master's, so I thought, ‘Oh my God, I don’t remember how to write a term paper, do research with footnotes, and all that stuff.’”

Rita SerotkinRita Serotkin, who has worked in adult higher education for much of her adult life, became an adult learner in 2001 at the age of 54 when she decided to finally pursue her doctoral degree. She had always wanted to, but there was always a reason to put it off.

“The truth of it is that I was scared — just absolutely terrified. ‘A doctorate? Me? Am I smart enough?’ These are the things that ran through my head,” she said. “It had been 30 years since I’d gotten my master's, so I thought, ‘Oh my God, I don’t remember how to write a term paper, do research with footnotes, and all that stuff.’”

Then, while working at Widener University, where part of her job at the time was advising students in doctoral programs, a student she had recruited and with whom she had become friends came into her office and asked her when she was going to get started on her doctorate.

“She spit back right at me all the things I had said to her,” Serotkin said. “She was my age, and she convinced me that if she could do it I could too, which was what I always told prospective students.”

Now, Serotkin, who serves as the associate vice president and dean of Guilford College’s Center for Continuing Education and Summer School, tells prospective and current students that she knows exactly how terrified they feel, because she felt that way not so long ago. She also makes sure they know that her job is to remove as many obstacles as possible to help them succeed.

And she ensures adult learners at the institution have access to the kinds of support services they need. For example, a learning commons offers free tutoring and workshops on topics such as developing study and test-taking skills. Credit-bearing classes such as Guilford’s Adult Transitions, Gateways to Success, and Introduction to Computers addresses adult learners’ personal insecurities and academic deficiencies.

An adult student government ensures that older learners have access to the kinds of opportunities that appeal to them, such as help finding better jobs, managing their time, and balancing competing responsibilities.

And a peer mentoring program matches new adult learners with current mature students who have achieved academic success. Mentors and mentees are matched based on their majors and interests. With some of the money from a $100,000 grant from the Council of Independent Colleges and Walmart, she grew the mentoring program to about 10 times its size. And each semester, it continues to grow because students who benefitted as mentees want to pay it forward by mentoring future students.

Serotkin has also developed new undergraduate programs since arriving at Guilford in 2006, convinced the faculty to offer existing programs at night, and worked with leaders at other area institutions to develop a referral center that will be located in downtown Greensboro, where people will be able to go to talk to advisors about the best institution and program based on their needs, career interests and prior college experiences.

Not everything is rosy. The state of North Carolina recently did away with a program that gave in-state students attending private institutions some scholarship money. That has made Guilford less accessible to many adults. And as many institutions herd adult learners into online programs because they’re less costly to run than face-based ones, adult enrollments have suffered. Plus, some students now arriving at Guilford come with negative experiences in online programs.

“Running an adult degree program is difficult, no matter where you are, because most are run on a shoestring budget,” she said. “But distance learning isn’t right for every adult learner. Many aren’t technologically savvy or have the independent learning skills needed to succeed in online programs. Unfortunately, distance education is how a lot of institutions are managing to cut costs.”

Serotkin tells those students that the negative experiences they’ve had are in the past, and reiterates that she’s there to ensure they have whatever supports they need to succeed.

“Yes, the bottom line is what everyone is looking at with adult-serving programs, but you can’t lose sight of the students,” she said.

For more information, you may contact Rita Serotkin at serotkinrs@guilford.edu.

 

 

  • LOGIN HERE

    Username: Password:
  • Content Directory

    RRAL subscribers can now log in to browse all articles online!
    Browse Content
    Free Content
  • Free E-Alerts

    Sign up to receive exclusive content and special offers in the areas that interest you.
    Send
  • Subscription Formats

  • Meet the Editor

    Cynthia Gomez
    Managing Editor

    Cynthia Gomez became the editor of Recruiting & Retaining Adult Learners, formerly known as Nontraditional Students Report, in 2010. She has covered higher education for more than a decade, and has written and edited pamphlets and books for higher education audiences.
Copyright © 2000-2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. or related companies. All rights reserved.