KATIE FARRELL: A bachelor’s degree has personal and professional benefits to individuals, their organizations and society as a whole. It gives employees skills to help grow their organizations, because they learn how to be innovative problem-solvers with the necessary critical thinking for achieving organizational goals.
A 2013 College Board report shows that individuals with bachelor’s degrees are more likely to be happy with their organizations, desire continuous learning during employment, have healthier lifestyles and live longer than those without four-year degrees. These factors translate into a skilled workforce that can take an organization to the next level.
Society’s struggle to develop qualified leaders for future generations is real. A college education provides the confidence, social development, communication skills and innovation needed to remedy this crisis.
FARRELL: Unlike traditional students, most adult learners have families and full- or part-time jobs, which can mean less time for their education.
It can be challenging to find a program with the flexibility an adult learner demands. A traditional format may mean adult learners will be unable to take classes only offered during the day, creating scheduling challenges that can postpone graduation and prevent academic success.
The cost of higher education has dramatically increased over the years, which poses another challenge. In addition to tuition, fees and books, adult learners will have related expenses, such as daycare, mortgage payments and loss of income from missed work, that can cause stress.
Adult learners have different expectations and needs from their college experience than their traditional counterparts. Finding an institution that understands their unique needs and has support mechanisms in place can be challenging in a world of traditional colleges. North Carolina Wesleyan College (NCWC) staff and faculty understand those needs and can provide solutions. That understanding allows us to anticipate the needed support mechanisms and how to implement them.
The first question should be about accreditation. In today’s diverse world, there is an abundance of new institutions. However, not all of them have the accreditation required to continue to graduate school or provide transferrable credits. Asking who the institution is accredited by and understanding what that means is key.
FARRELL: Once they’ve narrowed down their choices to colleges based on accreditation and programs, questions regarding academic standards should follow. Most colleges can provide students with information about class requirements to help them determine if that school fits their lifestyles. Additionally, it’s good to ask about faculty credentials. Adult learners prefer to learn material they can apply to their everyday lives. So, it’s important to them to have faculty with real-world experience. At NCWC, we use a combination of full-time faculty and adjunct instructors that typically have careers in the fields they teach. This combination creates classes with high academic standards and material that is directly applicable.
Since adult learners have unique requirements, they should ask institutions about support services, their accessibility and additional costs. Are tutoring programs or counseling services available? How many advisers will they have and how accessible will they be? Although many adults choose online institutions because of the flexibility, accessing their support services may be more difficult. It’s important to understand how and when support services are offered so adult students feel confident they will have access to programs and services that will help remove potential barriers to success.
FARRELL: Like many industries, academia has a quality assurance system enforced through accreditation. Accreditation provides checks and balances to ensure a college program is reputable and adheres to specific academic standards. The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) validate accreditation agencies, with the USDE seal of approval being the most recognized. The highest standard is known as regional accreditation and students can look up whether or not a school is regionally accredited.
A student considering a school that is not regionally accredited should question why that institution hasn’t sought this standard. Schools without regional accreditation may still provide the skills and education necessary but students should ask, “What will employers think of this degree?” and “What are my options if I decide to transfer or go further with my education?”
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