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New Paper Calls for Revamping Higher Education to Meet the Needs of Post-Traditional Learners

January 18, 2013


​Higher education leaders should transform the academy to better serve post-traditional learners, according to a new paper commissioned by ACE.

The Manifesto for College Leaders, authored by Louis Soares, a special policy advisor to the president of ACE, says the needs of adult learners, a national innovation economy and an information-driven democracy can combine to produce a “new era of innovation in higher education.”

“The issue of increasing attainment rates among all Americans, including adult learners, is of great importance to the higher education community and the nation as a whole,” said ACE President Molly Corbett Broad. “With this paper, Louis Soares offers some intriguing ideas about the role innovation might play as higher education leaders continue to address the pressing issue of post-traditional learners and attainment.”

If the United States is to retain its competitive edge in the global economy, it is crucial to increase the number of Americans who possess postsecondary levels of academic and applied skills, Soares writes.

The paper says that while much attention is paid to the disruptive potential of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other technology-driven developments, those are simply tools that will abet the real force driving higher education change: the rise of the post-traditional learners.

Not only have such post-traditional learners been a growing presence in higher education institutions since the late 1970s, but by many measures, they now have become the norm.

According to the Manifesto for College Leaders, Department of Education data indicates that traditional students who enroll in college full time straight from high school represent only about 15 percent of current undergraduates. Estimates place the number of Americans with no postsecondary credential who could benefit from some type of higher education as high as 80 million to 90 million.

It is crucial to increase the attainment levels of working age Americans between 25-64 years old—individuals with a range of education needs from high school graduates to high school dropouts, which includes single mothers, immigrants, veterans and at-risk young people seeking a second chance, says the paper.

Currently, post-traditional learners fare poorly in completing their degrees, compared with traditional students. That is why higher education leaders should revamp current institutional, instructional and revenue models to achieve better results for these learners, Soares writes.

The paper proposes three principles:

  1. Go beyond the academy to create a consortium that focuses on expanding the frontiers of teaching and learning for post-traditional learners.
  2. Rebuild the definition of postsecondary education from the post-traditional learner out.
  3. Be entrepreneurs of a new venture, not stewards of existing institutions.

“In a successful 21st century, the literature to be written must point to a bottom-up entrepreneurship, in which, postsecondary education leaders transformed institutional, instructional, credentialing, and financing models based on the learning needs of post-traditional learners,” the paper says. “These new forms will produce more learning for students, rewrite public policy, and create an era of post-traditional learning aligned with a knowledge society and innovation economy.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Erin Hennessy ▪ 202-939-9367 (office) ▪ 202-664-4205 (cell) ▪


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