As a child, we are all taught about the dangers of assuming things or outcomes. Yet, as adults, at least in many cases in academia, that is exactly what is transpiring, gross and negligent assumptions regarding educational opportunities translates into educational success. Many colleges and universities simply direct their non-traditional learners’ attention to the positive aspects of access (i.e., flexibility, convenience, less time to complete degree). However, focusing solely on the non-traditional learner and the online platform, providing access is simply not enough, instead, success for the non-traditional learner should be the goal. The consequences of these chains of events are staggering. For example, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), only 48.9 percent of adults are graduating with an undergraduate degree within six years of the start of their program. That means that institutions of higher education are essentially abandoning the 51.1 percent of the adult learners enrolled in courses.
The point of perspective needs to be recognized in order to fully understand and appreciate the situation. While higher education administrators and faculty fully comprehend what is required to complete a given degree program, access to an opportunity to earn a degree is not enough, the potential non-traditional learner needs to be made fully aware of the likelihood of the full-time commitment to successfully complete the degree. However, what mechanisms are in place to enable the non-traditional learner to transition from initial access to ultimate success? This is not meant to diminish the quality or relevancy of the degree, regardless of the educational institution, whether public university or a for-profit institution.
The non-traditional learner deserves, in good faith, the same information and guidance that their younger counterparts receive, online or on campus. Consider the information and guidance being provided and the modality in which it is presented. First, the issue surrounding technology and the non-traditional learner. A wealth of information and resources may be available to learners via the Internet or a web-based repository. However, after teaching online for nearly twenty years, I can attest, many online non-traditional learners are “challenged” by technology, even though it is portrayed as easily understandable or convenient. This is accurate, but, if the user does not possess the know how to navigate or fully utilize the resources, what is the benefit and how is that going to move the non-traditional learner from the access stage to the success stage along their academic journey? For the nontraditional student, it is just as important for them to determine college fit.