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Accommodating adult students is critical post-COVID

I read an article recently on steps one Illinois community college has taken to support its adult learners. Like many other community colleges, Waubonsee Community College has seen a decline in enrollment. The losses are particularly noticeable among adult students.

Collectively, adult students have run into significant problems as they attempt to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. First, many adult students have children, whom they’re trying to care for amid school and day care closures. Second, many adult students have either lost their jobs, or are working overtime during the pandemic. Neither of these circumstances are conducive to going to school.

The COVID-19 pandemic has pitted household members against each other for access to computers and Internet resources. Adults must also devote more time to assisting their children as they try to manage the demands of online school or hybrid school arrangements. Even simple activities, like grocery shopping, take more time than in the past.

New data from the most recent semester show that adult students have coped with these added demands by withdrawing from school or reducing the number of classes they’re enrolled in. For many adult learners, this has resulted in graduation delays. Others have chosen not to enroll at all.

Drawing adult learners back into the classrooms

Waubonsee Community College is hoping that its efforts to meet adult learners where they are will convince them to either remain enrolled or to enroll for the first time. Some of the steps Waubonsee has taken include making student services available before classes start in the morning and into the evening, when adult students are more likely to have uninterrupted time to tackle their challenges.

Additionally, the college has established Sunday night tutoring services. The sessions are very popular because adult learners have both the time and available computer resources on Sunday nights. Like many other community colleges, Waubonsee made laptops available to students who did not have computer resources at home. Other community colleges have provided additional funds that enable their students to buy or rent access to electronic textbooks and other digital learning support products and services.

Waubonsee’s goal is not just to serve its students, but its community as well. The college has instituted timely course offerings, including contact-tracing training, cyber-security and health care programs.

According to Waubonsee President Christine Sobek, the college is likely to continue offering these modified support services after the pandemic ends. In her view, the accommodations help adult learners remain in school, so they’ll be staying put.

Accommodating adult learners will be especially important, because that’s one demographic that holds great potential for improving enrollment numbers. About 65 million Americans in the workforce have only a high school diploma. These workers are most often affected by sudden job losses due to COVID-19. Typically, they must perform their work in-person and occupy low wage positions in many sectors. Providing the correct supports for these individuals can help them cope with the complexities of adult learning or remain enrolled long enough to complete a degree program.

Photo Credit: Tormod Ulsberg , via Flickr