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Adult Higher Education: Are We Moving in the Wrong Direction?


Journal of Continuing Higher Education Volume 60, Number 1, ISSN 0737-7363


After so many years of invisibility, adult students in higher education have finally begun to come into their own. As a newly discovered marketing niche, adults are seen by budget-driven college administrators as important financial plums. As vocal advocates for their own needs, they have made the issue of access a legitimate consideration in the world of higher education. As busy parents, workers, and community members, they have seized on and subsidized the explosion of distance education that makes schooling possible given the constraints of their busy lives. Nontraditional students now make up more than half the undergraduates in American higher education. The fact is that within the brick and mortar walls of the first-tier universities, adult students are still not welcome. Elite liberal arts colleges and top-ranked research institutions are in such high demand that they have no incentive to respond to the changing demographics, much less to question the "great tradition" of university education. In this article, the authors call for integration. At the most basic level, students who are diverse, not just in race and gender but also in age, acquire whole new perspectives when they can learn from one another. Multiple skills are developed when, at the institutional level, students can choose many other learning experiences besides the simple model of a three-times-a-week place-bound classroom with textbook, lecture, and exam. And at the curricular level, deeper understanding results when liberal arts, general education, and "breadth" courses are integrated into the so-called practical courses that relate to students' work, lives, and questions. Student interests and goals differ by age, just as they vary by race, gender, culture, talent, prior history, personality, and an infinite number of variables that distinguish one individual from another. However, it is not viable, not educationally wise, and certainly not in the interests of social justice or democracy, to create institutions that separate students at every turn. Thus, the authors urge schools on both sides of the age divide not to accept this growing compartmentalization. They argue that schools should instead strive to enhance their accessibility, expand their offerings, experiment with new modes of teaching and learning, embrace the uniqueness of each individual learner, and actively welcome those students they do not ordinarily attract. In addition, researchers should be called on to determine, and then publically announce, the extent to which academic outcomes are constrained or otherwise negatively affected by the current two-tiered system.


Coulter, X. & Mandell, A. (2012). Adult Higher Education: Are We Moving in the Wrong Direction?. Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 60(1), 40-42. Retrieved September 17, 2019 from .

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