Lesley University president’s presentation highlights challenges faced by ‘nontraditional’ collegians
Thursday, July 18, 2013
A freshly scrubbed and enthusiastic high school graduate juggling trips to the beach with excursions to the mall in search of dorm décor?A standout shooting guard on full scholarship, striding into the gym for his first day of basketball practice at a Division I powerhouse?How about a military veteran who’s also a mother of three and is holding down a full-time job, paying a mortgage and inspecting prospective senior living centers for her septuagenarian parents? You probably didn’t think of that, if you’re like most people informed by the popular culture’s portrayal of university life.
On July 18, Lesley University President Joseph B. Moore kicked off the third and final day of the 2013 Conference on Adult Learner Enrollment Management in the Omni Parker House in downtown Boston. In his presentation, “Adult Learners as Loners: Ending the Marginalization of Adult Students,” Dr. Moore indicated that media depictions of the university as the exclusive province of the young have an insidious effect on public policy, including financial aid, program design and academic services for students whose high school years are well behind them.“Why don’t adults count?” he asked. “One, we don’t count them, and we don’t see them.” He showed how the National Center for Educational Statistics counts many important issues related to young college students and very little for adult students. He buttressed his point with video from the game show “Wheel of Fortune’s” “College Week,” as well as the movies “Legally Blonde” and “Animal House.” Missing from all of the clips were images of any students over 25.And in the rare instances where adult students are depicted, they’re shown as buffoonish or otherwise sketchy, as in the comedy “Community.” That’s entertainment, but the skewed picture of the traditional college student transcends broad comedy.In 2011-2012 the majority of degrees conferred went to students over 25 (53.7 percent of four-year-program degrees; 55.4 percent of two-year degrees) yet, in its familiar annual list of the “top universities,” U.S. News & World Report bases its rankings on factors irrelevant to adult students: six-year graduation rate, SAT and ACT scores and high school class standing. The publication is focused on traditional age students, not adults.
The magazine isn’t the only news source ignoring a significant proportion of the university population, however. Stories about coaches menacing their players, impoverished students overlooking elite universities (apparently unaware of generous aid packages) and a controversial New York Times column about women being urged to parlay their college years into catching a rich husband perpetuate the stereotype of students being young and naïve, rather than world-tested people with families, work lives and rich experiences prior to their time on campus.But, Dr. Moore added, colleges and universities must take a look in the mirror also.
He showed examples of admissions brochures bereft of any images of students 25 and older, and chided schools for creating picture-perfect backdrops of verdant, rolling campus hills and fall foliage, with maybe one adult student added somewhere in the frame for an attempt at diversity. Instead, he wondered, why not send a photographer to accompany an adult student to his or her workplace and show what that student’s life is like outside the classroom?One participant, who works at a midwestern college, confirmed the thrust of Dr. Moore’s presentation. His school, with two-thirds of the student body over 25, routinely leaves older students out of its marketing material — as well as a number of campus events -- aimed only at “traditional” students.
As Dr. Moore said earlier, underscoring the consequences of failing to consider adult learners: “If you don’t count them, they can’t become a force. And this is a loss for them, their families, our institutions, and our country.”Though the digital age has given adult learners much more access to content than in the 1970s, they still face a scarcity of financial aid (despite their demonstrated good fiscal behavior), restrictive credit-transfer policies and programs being offered at times and in formats that don’t meet the needs of adult learners.
Rather, Dr. Moore suggested, a higher-education system more suited to adult learners would count transfer credits (with no time limit), provide effective and reliable academic advising, and offer various modes of course delivery, including year-round learning.
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