In North Carolina’s robust however swiftly evolving economic system, making larger training accessible to adult learners is a win for everybody. Whether these college students aged 25 years or extra intention to extend their expertise or pivot to a brand new profession, incomes new credentials creates alternatives. Likewise, employers profit from employees with up to date information and expertise, in addition to the expertise that comes with age.
Educating adult learners can also be a win for our state’s workforce. As the workforce tendencies towards a extra mature demographic, this technique prepares employees to fill essential jobs in our communities. We know from current research equivalent to “North Carolina’s Leaky Education Pipeline,” printed by Carolina Demography in 2019, that the pipeline of 18- to 24-year-olds is diminishing. If North Carolina neighborhood schools are going to spice up enrollment, and if the state goes to fulfill its purpose of credentialing 2 million North Carolinians by 2030, adult learners should be a part of the equation.
Flexibility for success
Educating adult learners presents distinctive challenges. These college students should stability the obligations of labor, funds, household, dwelling, transportation, baby care, and way more. Flexibility is due to this fact crucial to enabling this inhabitants to complete robust with a credential to indicate for it.
An awesome start line is to supply college students with versatile course schedules with lessons supplied throughout the day, within the night, on-line, and at an accelerated tempo. In reality, many adult learners could not enroll in any respect with out these choices. We additionally must hold their academic experiences environment friendly; myriad short-term coaching and certificates packages present wonderful jump-off factors for many to achieve their targets. When they see the worth larger training gives to their careers and employers, they usually pursue extra credentials.
We have additionally discovered that adult learners want assist all through their training journeys. Thanks to a grant awarded by way of Dogwood Health Trust, we not too long ago deployed two full-time success coaches to assist adult learners, strolling them by way of the onboarding course of and making certain a profitable first semester by way of to completion. Students know that their coaches are able to hear, reply questions, resolve issues, assist them overcome obstacles, and help with examine strategies, time administration, and self-awareness. With the correct flexibility and assist, these college students can thrive.
Reaching adult learners
Because of their many roles and excessive tempo of life, adult learners face obstacles to accessing details about academic alternatives. Accordingly, outreach and advertising strategies should be fastidiously focused and carry robust messages that resonate. At Blue Ridge, three intersecting strategies drove current outcomes.
In early 2021, Blue Ridge Community College was one among 5 schools chosen for a pilot program referred to as the Engaging Adults Initiative — now known as NC Reconnect — sponsored by the John M. Belk Endowment. As a part of this initiative, Blue Ridge rolled out the marketing campaign messaging “Better Skills. Better Jobs.” We carried this message in paid ads, in addition to performed grassroots outreach by way of employer visits, info disseminated to faith-based communities, communities of shade, and elevated participation in space occasions.
Our second technique additionally prolonged from this initiative. Working with nationwide nonprofit InsideTrack, we recognized and instantly contacted greater than 2,500 Blue Ridge Community College college students from the previous 5 years who had accomplished greater than half of a program of examine after which dropped out.
Finally, Blue Ridge creatively reworked its finances and scholarship packages to supply Brighter Future free faculty scholarships to all eligible college students. These mixed efforts resulted in a 41% improve in adult learners in comparison with fall 2020 and an general enrollment improve of 9%.
Think like an adult learner
As we discovered alongside our sister schools throughout the Engaging Adults Initiative, there are specific companies, processes, and necessities that we should step again and rethink by way of the lens of the adult learner. We should ask laborious questions with our workers and school to make sure we’re eliminating or rethinking what makes it tough for adult learners to enroll at our schools. Investing the additional time to study their potential obstacles will repay again and again.
As Dan Barkin talked about in a current Business North Carolina article, some assume faculty college students ought to fend for themselves. But as schools throughout the nation wrestle to retain college students and our employers wrestle to seek out certified employees, why would we not create assist methods that assist college students attain their tutorial targets?
After all, it’s greater than credentials that hold within the stability; it’s the very well being of our economic system and workforce. And these are the constructing blocks that create the secure and gratifying communities all of us love in North Carolina.
Laura B. Leatherwood, Ed.D., is the president of Blue Ridge Community College. Leatherwood was chosen because the 2022 President of the Year by the NC Community College System. Prior to Blue Ridge, she served for 17 years in numerous roles at Haywood Community College. Dr. Leatherwood holds a doctorate diploma in college and neighborhood faculty management, a grasp’s diploma in human useful resource growth, and a bachelor’s diploma in enterprise legislation, all from Western Carolina University.