A newly minted high school graduate gets dropped off by parents at a residential campus in the late summer. He or she enrolls, pursues a degree, and graduates four years later. While this is the mental image most people have of college and university students, we know it’s not an accurate one. Indeed, fewer than 15 percent of current students match the description above. Almost 40 percent are older than 25 and more than 20 percent are older than 30. Nearly a quarter of postsecondary students are parents, and one-third are employed full-time.
In addition to being older, today’s college and university students are taking longer to finish their education, working more, and seeking credentials with more relevance to their need to get or retain a job. They come to postsecondary education with prior learning experiences like workplace or military training, or transfer credits from previous institutions. They are seeking flexibility and customization to help them balance education with work or family responsibilities.
These so-called “post-traditional” students are key to our future, as they represent millions of Americans who have the potential to contribute to the economic and competitive strength of our nation. As higher education is mobilizing to serve them better, the American Council on Education (ACE) stands ready to help—and we hope our focus on post-traditional and adult students in this issue of The Presidency offers useful perspectives.
In this issue, ACE’s new vice president for education attainment and innovation, Cathy A. Sandeen, shares our plan to leverage research and fresh thinking to help expand higher education’s capacity to serve the post-traditional student. Kathryn Masterson, formerly of The Chronicle of Higher Education, digs into MOOCs—massive open online courses—and the potential their low- or no-cost, flexible approach may hold for older students already in the workforce.
Steven Knapp, president of The George Washington University (DC), builds on the panel he moderated at ACE’s 95th Annual Meeting in March to assess the challenges we still face in serving student veterans well four years after the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Thomas J. Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College (IN), highlights the successes his institution has encountered in creating a clear, barrier-free path for adult students to pursue education that helps them prepare for or advance in their careers— goals shared by American Association of Community Colleges President and CEO Walter Bumphus, who describes community colleges as critical for mid-life adult students.
As higher education and the students we serve continue to change and evolve, I hope you will see ACE as a partner and a resource for your campus and your leadership team. As always, we are grateful for your continued support of ACE, and I would like to extend particular thanks to the more than 1,700 higher education leaders who joined us in Washington in March for the 95th Annual Meeting. I hope you were as energized and inspired by the sessions and the opportunities to connect with colleagues as I was, and I hope to see you at the 96th Annual Meeting, March 8–11, 2014, in San Diego.
Molly Corbett Broad
American Council on Education