Graduate high school and then go to college is how universities planned it to work way back when. “For decades many large universities provided a traditional education to unmarried students who lived in dormitories and stayed a full four years.” (Giczkowski) In these four years, young and non-experienced students would take two years of general education with the idea that the students would be well rounded and ideal employees. That is not the case anymore. “The adult population is expected to be the fastest growing segment of higher education and, in fact, older students will become the majority.” (Galusha) Universities need to adapt to the new wave of students who are adult learners by eliminating or decreasing the general education requirements and learning what adults need to succeed. General Education requirements are intended to teach students all about the “real” world, and are fashioned as introductions to intellectual life. That sounds wonderful; however, most traditional students take the easiest general education classes that will count towards their degree credits. If they go to class at all, they pay attention just enough to pass the class.
This may be the case for traditional students but not for adult learners who are more than likely not even on campus. The Indiana University Center survey findings revealed a higher level of nontraditional adult student participation than traditional-age students. • 80% of nontraditional adult learners asked questions in class or contributed to discussions, while only 72% of traditional-age students did so. • 61% of the nontraditional adult students prepared two or more drafts of papers and assignments, while only 40% of traditional-age students complete one draft. • Only 13% of nontraditional adult learners came to class unprepared with assignments uncompleted; however, 24% of traditional-age students were coming to class unprepared with incomplete assignments.
(Wyatt) An adult learner has typically had enough life experience to make them well rounded so general education classes should not be required or at the very least, cut back. An adult learner is more than likely going to school because they haven’t before, and need a degree to move up in their current career or, are switching careers. Whatever the case is, an adult learner probably has a few other things going on in their life other than school; they are working full time, have kids, running a household and now need to think about school assignments. The requirement of all the extra general education classes makes that four-year degree take a lot longer than that. An example of the difficulties adult learners face is my story: I work at the University of Minnesota in Human Resources. I am at a point in my career that I need a degree in addition to my experience to advance. Having never been to school after high school, here I am, a 38year old wife and mom of three boys working forty hours a week and going back to school. I must continue working full time, so my only option is to take classes online. A Bachelor of Science in Management is a 120 credit degree, without general education classes. The general education requirements consist of ten goal areas with each goal needing anywhere from three to nine credits. While some classes cross goal areas, most do not. It is not realistic for me to take a full twelve credits each semester which means that my four-year degree is going to take me five years to complete including taking classes in the summer. This is daunting and makes it very hard to stay motivated and engaged. Maybe if the general education classes seemed more relevant to the degree. It would be more understandable, but when classes such as Geology, Ancient to 17th Century World Literature and Introductory Physics are required for a business management degree, it is hard to understand how those classes help someone who wants to work in Human Resources at a higher education institute.
An employer is not going to be going through a prospective employee’s class schedule to see what classes they took when they earned their degree and, if they did and saw Geology, that is not going to increase my chance of getting that human resources position unless it was in the College of Environmental Sciences. I can appreciate there is something gained by learning new things. Such as concentration and learning to pay attention to things that may not really be important to you or working on collaboration by working with classmates on assignments. Maybe the answer is not to eliminate the general education classes completely but to reduce the number of general education credits needed for a degree or revamp them, taking into consideration the adult learners. Universities should review their current general education requirements and look at who their students are, focusing on the adult learners since they are more than likely the majority this day in age. “Planning effective programs and services and helping adult learners succeed require a clear understanding of adult learners’ needs and expectations and how adults learn.” (Shi) One change could be for higher education institutes with a large adult population to acknowledge that adult students are at a different developmental stage and may best be served by a distinct set of requirements suitable for them.(Giczkowski) Outside of altering the general education requirements, an answer could be putting an age limit out there, such as a Freshman is 35 years of age or older, they are not required to take as many general education credits, especially ones that do not pertain to their current degree.
This goes along with the thought process that a 35-year-old has had many more years of life and work experience and is already well rounded. Another thought is adult learners who are employees at the University. And are taking classes towards a degree that is beneficial to their position or department. Would not have to meet any of the general education requirements. The thought behind this is that the University already knows what kind of employee. They have and if they are willing to put the funds forward to send that person to school, they want to keep them. This would also make for a happier and a more productive employee sooner since the degree would be earned faster. As an extra benefit, it would save the University money in tuition. In her article Research in Higher Education Vol. 3 No. 3, Betsy Suddareth reviewed Purdue University’s study to investigate the impact of general education requirements. The longitudinal study followed experimental groups and control groups through their college careers and, also, continuing after graduation. “The conclusion was that both the academic data and the questionnaire data indicate that the experimental group was successful during the first two years. If the succeeding college and post-college years demonstrate similar characteristics, it would appear that some reduction or elimination of general requirements would not dilute the B.A. degree and would make students feel that the university is concerned about them.” (Suddareth) One other issue that comes into play with all of this is taking into consideration that a good majority of adult students are long distance learners. Long distance learners are students who do not physically attend class.
They are enrolled in online classes. This can be very difficult, since taking an online class out of another campus. That is 100 miles away does not make it very easy to meet with the instructor or counselor or anybody at the school. If a higher education institute is going to offer online degrees. And they have multiple campuses, they should offer this option at each one of their campuses. This does not necessarily come into play. When talking about general education. However, it does when universities are thinking about focusing on adult learners and what they need to succeed. Something needs to be done to help adult learners achieve their end goal sooner. Going back to the thought that employers want well rounded employees, an adult learner would be the best candidate. They are already well rounded with so many years of work experience under their belt and now they would have a degree to match it. Employers want the piece of paper these days that says that someone. Is a subject matter expert in the field they went to school for, not in Geology and 17th century writing.
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