Providing quality higher education for adults

Providing quality higher education for adults

University of Maryland University College (UMUC) first opened its classrooms in 1947 as a special college at the University of Maryland, created specifically to serve the state’s returning World War II veterans with GI Bill in hand. That was the spark that in many ways ignited America’s adult-learning movement and paved the way for open-access institutions such as UMUC, founded in the belief that higher education should be available to anyone, anywhere, at any time—institutions that forged new trails in adult-focused curriculum design, instructional methodologies, distance delivery, and student service.

Consequently, by 1970, what had once been a “grand experiment” became a separate degree-granting institution within the University System of Maryland. Today, UMUC is the nation’s largest public university and a truly global academic enterprise, with three divisions in Europe, Asia, and the United States serving 94,000 students in 28 countries. It also continues to forge new trails.

Having now spent sixty-four years educating adults, UMUC has come to appreciate how different its students are from students who go on to college right out of high school. For the most part, their families and careers are already well under way, which means they often come with a good bit of experience and a lot of responsibility in their lives. Adults also tend to be highly self-directed and problem-oriented learners, with clear academic goals in mind that are, more often than not, tied to professional advancement. Likewise, they have a strong penchant for experiential learning that is meaningful, as well as an intense need to apply what they are learning immediately and effectively.

That being said, they are looking for academic opportunities that help them bridge what they know with what they need to learn in a way that is both easily transferrable beyond the classroom and tailored to meet them “where they are” dispositionally and experientially. Moreover, they demand market-driven degree and certificate programs—full time and part time, online and in class—with options that include prior learning credits, accelerated program formats, and targeted career counseling.

Because the college day begins after rush hour ends for most of these students, their success depends on wraparound support services that are as easy to access as they are to use. They are also more likely to take a course or two at a time; “stop out” altogether when life gets in the way; or simply move on to other, more promising academic options when their needs go unmet.

As adults continue going back to college at record rates, it is safe to say that technology-enhanced learning and adult-focused education are not just passing fancies, but rather permanent—albeit rapidly evolving—dimensions of today’s higher education landscape. Therefore, it is incumbent upon trailblazing universities such as UMUC to continue developing the appropriate metrics and collecting the necessary data to measure the impact of innovative strategies and technologies on its students, its faculties, and its institutions. By doing so, we can create a far more inclusive and empowering knowledge ecology in which information, ideas, and inspiration flourish and cross-pollinate, thereby ensuring even greater success for the students we serve.

The full chapter is available here. The whole book is available for download here.