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Non-Traditional Higher Ed is the New Normal

Non-Traditional Higher Ed is the New Normal

By Amrit Ahluwalia | Managing Editor, The EvoLLLution: A Destiny Solutions Illumination

Welcome to an ongoing series by The EvoLLLution’s Managing Editor, Amrit Ahluwalia. His articles will recap content published on The EvoLLLution, providing postsecondary leaders with some wider visibility on what's happening in the fast-changing world of higher education.

Traditional higher education is dead. Long live traditional higher education!

The Students Are Changing

Today’s student is no longer exclusively 18-22 years old, enrolling straight from high school. Instead, today’s student is more likely a parent trying to advance their career or start a new one while juggling multiple responsibilities.

It’s not just anecdote that proves this: the numbers back it up. Way back in 2002 we knew that 72% of undergraduate students who were receiving financial aid were in some way non-traditional. Just to clarify this stat further: that number does not include students enrolled in non-degree programs who aren’t eligible for financial aid. It’s exclusively counting non-traditional students enrolled in (ahem) “traditional” degree programs.

Their Expectations Are Raised

Today’s student is no longer exclusively living on campus. Students are enrolling from around the country and around the world. Even students who live within an institution’s service area might not be on campus, but learning online.

This means that the engagement expectations learners are bringing to the table are completely different than they were even 10 years ago. While many institutions have nodded toward this fact by taking their services online, Mark Mrozinski (Assistant Vice President of Workforce Development and Executive Dean at Harper College) pointed out in an EvoLLLution interview that rather than rethinking what these new students needed, colleges simply tried to fit them into pre-existing boxes.

“Most online enrollment registration systems in higher ed grew up around the physical structure of the college or university, and were built with an administrative focus in mind rather than the needs of the student,” he said. “They had an admissions module, a curriculum module, a registration module, a finance module, a financial aid module. The student navigated the online system just as they would if they walked on campus and you sent them from one office to another to another. There was no continuity of service.”

As I pointed out in a different article, today’s students think, act and respond like customers. This means an experience that doesn’t fit their expectations will cause them to leave, rather than muddle through in frustration.

They Want Something Different

Today’s student is no longer exclusively looking for a degree. Instead, microcredentials like certificates, certifications and badges are helping learners meet their career objectives.

This is not to say that the traditional student has disappeared—but their numbers are shrinking. Meanwhile, there are a huge number of individuals who are not served by the traditional machinations of the academy looking for access to programming. They don’t care where they get it, though. A university, a bootcamp, edupunk: The outcomes matter more than the format.

I just wrote an entire piece on this demand for new credentials so I’m not going to get into the weeds of it here, but by becoming more creative with credentialing, colleges and universities could create new and exciting access pathways for learners who aren’t served by the (ahem) “traditional” postsecondary model.

Getting From Point A to Point B

For institutional leaders trying to figure out how to serve this new traditional student population, I have one piece of advice: Leverage your continuing education divisions properly to adapt your institution appropriately. An innovative CE division will help you find ways to unbundle content that’s currently gated and exclusive to degree-seeking students, allowing you to serve new learner populations. They will help you to be entrepreneurial and market-responsive. They will help you adapt to scale and evolve. They will help you keep content fresh and relevant.

They will help you to grow, and to truly fulfill your mission as a higher learning institution.

During our annual monthlong Year in Review, a tradition we have maintained since launching in 2012, we typically try to highlight a major trend we’ve observed over the course of the year. For the 2018 Year in Review eBook, we’re sharing stories from leaders across the higher education space reflecting on how they’re shaping their institutions to adapt to these new market realities, with new kinds of students engaging with the institution in new ways and looking for new things.

If your institution is not moving in this direction, you’ll gain some clarity on why this shift is important and how to go about it. If your institution is already moving this way, you’ll come across some ideas for further transformation and growth.

Please download and enjoy the 2018 Year in Review eBook, and have a wonderful holiday season!

Download the 2018 Year in Review eBook