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New Report from Ohio: Student Success for Adult Learners

Report Cover Student Success for Adult LearnersThe Ohio Department of Higher Education’s most recent report on the condition of higher education in their state focuses on success for adult learners. The report includes an eye-opening analysis of credential attainment for Ohio’s adult students in comparison to their traditional-aged counterparts, as well as an overview of current efforts to serve adult students and suggestions for more effectively serving this population moving forward.

Key components of the report include:

  • Definition of Adult Learners - The report defines adult learners as those aged 25 or older. The authors explain that while a more nuanced definition might be preferable, not all public institutions in the state track other characteristics that might be used in such a definition, for example, working full-time or parenting status. Moreover, the state currently uses the “age 25 or older” criterion as an “at-risk” category in its performance-based funding formula. The report’s authors recommend that the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE) should “implement a uniform statewide definition of adult learners…and work with institutions to facilitate more consistent date collection,” convening a working group to determine what data elements the department should collect and analyze to better understand and serve the state’s adult learner population.  
     
  • Analysis of Adult Student Outcomes - Using six-year completion data from three cohorts of students, the report’s analysis found that at Ohio’s public universities, students aged 25 and over had completion rates 20 percentage points lower than their younger peers. A more modest gap in completion rates also existed at the state’s community colleges, where adult students completed degrees at a rate eight percentage points lower than traditional-aged students. Interestingly, this trend reversed at Ohio Technical Centers (OTCs)—which offer certificate programs—where adult students slightly outperformed younger students in earning credentials.

    Cohort Analysis Chart

 

 

 

 

 


 

  • Program Highlights – The report periodically calls out innovative ways programs in the state serve adult learners. For example, highlighting the work of the University of Toledo’s College of Adult and Lifelong Learning which provides its adult learners with dedicated student success coaches who help them navigate academic and career planning, including potential candidacy for prior learning assessment, as well as offering referrals to additional resources as needed. Policies such as the University of Akron’s academic reassessment policy for students who left with a low GPA, but demonstrate a strong GPA upon return are also spotlighted.
     
  • Key Recommendations – The report makes a number of thoughtful recommendations for ways Ohio and its institutions can better serve adult learners.

    Priority Recommendations – The report designates five “priority” recommendations for the state.

    1. Institutions of higher education should include an adult-focused set of strategies to improve completion when updating their completion plans for June 2016.

    2. The Ohio Department of Higher Education should accelerate efforts to provide professional development and technical assistance to campuses to more effectively implement prior learning assessment.

    3. The Ohio Department of Higher Education should work with institutions to prioritize the development of competency-based programming on their campuses and ensure that established initiatives address the needs of adult learners.

    4. Campuses should examine their professional development offerings for instructional faculty and consider implementing development opportunities for adult learners.

    5. Campuses should promote effective career counseling and advising models targeted toward adults.

    Other Recommendations – From among the report’s ten overall recommendations, a few others that may be of interest include:
     
    • The Ohio Department of Higher Education should collaborate with colleges to explore ways to provide financial incentives for adults in technical certificate programs. The Ohio Department of Higher Education should work with institutions to develop a proposal for the next biennial budget that provides adults over 25 with financial incentives to return to less-than-one-year technical programs that are part of a pathway to a degree and address labor-market needs.
       
    • The Ohio Department of Higher Education should capture and disseminate best practices from Ohio institutions with established concierge models that support moving adult students from interest to enrollment.

The report marks an important step for the state in better understanding this key student group, presenting a clear call to action for Ohio and an excellent example for other states interested in a more complete picture of their postsecondary population.

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