Mitchell Community College’s President, Dr. Tim Brewer, Discusses the Importance of Anticipating the Adult Learner
Mitchell Community College is positioned as an accessible and relevant option for higher education; one that serves students from a variety of backgrounds, experiences, skills, knowledge, and aspirations. But these student populations shift and evolve depending on economic trends that drive changes to the postsecondary composition of students.
One such student population that has recently seen an increase in enrollment at the College has been high school students enrolling in Mitchell’s Career and College Promise and Early College programs. These programs prepare students to enter the college transfer pathway or navigate the workforce. By doing so, these programs allow students to get ahead with their college careers and save on what could be a burdensome tuition bill.
Yet, with an evident shift in the population, it is predicted that traditional high school students enrolled in community college will decline with time. This drop, referred to as the “enrollment cliff,” means that a “traditional student” (otherwise defined as post-secondary students under 25 years old who enroll at the College directly from high school) will become the smallest student population that Mitchell serves in the future.
In anticipation of this student population shift, Mitchell Community College, as well as other higher education institutions, need to anticipate a greater focus on the Adult Learner and develop strategies to meet their needs.
Know the Adult Learner
Mitchell knows that many of these Adult Learners are currently in the workforce and employed but are likely “underemployed” or not making sustainable living wages. These individuals are likely looking for opportunities to upgrade or reskill their professional knowledge in their given industry.
Understand Obstacles to their Success
Adult Learners are likely to be first-generation students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. It is also probable that these individuals have low grades from past educational experiences and need developmental education.
The College will need to create strategies that reduce barriers and obstacles that keep these students from seeking success and from moving forward with their goals. Mitchell provides all students with access to resources, support, and guidance every step of the way, but the College must consider what obstacles might be unique to Adult Learners, and how might they overcome these challenges.
Adopt and Adapt Responsive Policy and Practice
Mitchell’s responsibility to Adult Learners will be the engagement of a relevant education that equips them with skills that improve their employability, increase their earning-potential and prepare them for career changes.
Many Adult Learners may need guidance to re-engage in the academic processes and opportunities that Mitchell provides. They will need the College’s professional trust and cooperation. Therefore, Mitchell will need to continue to develop efficient and relevant course offerings with schedules and sequencing that meets an Adult Learner’s life demands.
At a conference hosted by the John M. Belk Foundation titled Adult Learners: The Future of Higher Education, the College of Education at North Carolina State University introduced recent research about the Adult Learner. The research, which is conducted as a part of NC Reconnect (a statewide effort to recruit and retain adult learners https://belk-center.ced.ncsu.edu/partnerships-and-convenings/nc-reconnect/), identified five areas of focus which include Public Messaging, Partnerships, Processes, Pathways, Proximity. These “P’s” can be helpful to the College as we prepare to make changes so that Mitchell can better engage with Adult Learners. This data and research will influence Mitchell’s institutional infrastructure to better support Adult Learners by creating policy and practices that are responsive to student needs. This infrastructure will support the organizational development of the College which will provide Adult Learners with an accessible and relevant education.
With intentional planning and active anticipation, Mitchell can help Adult Learners be successful in today’s job market. But first, the path to success starts with knowing who your students are.