WHO: Dr. Patricia (Tish) Davis-Wick and Dr. Therese Madden, Presenters; Dr. Steven Cady, Bowling Green State University, Facilitator, Nexus4Change
WHEN: Thursday, September 18 at 11AM-Noon Pacific Standard Time AND Thursday, September 25 from 11AM-Noon Pacific Standard Time (a two-part seminar).
INTRODUCTION: We work with and are inspired daily by the undergraduate students in our program. They are over the age of 25, have years of professional experience, and are seeking to complete a degree begun as recently as a year ago or as long as 20 (or more) years ago. When students walk into our offices to discuss enrolling in our program, we begin by asking them about themselves: what they do, what they want to do, where they are from, etc. They share incredibly varied but inevitably rich stories of lives often full of career and life experiences: jobs, families, travels, education, involvement in the community, and more. We never ask why they didn’t finish college in their early 20s, but they inevitably volunteer reasons that are broad and fascinating, though too often offered with apologetic explanations. Rather than accept the premise that these alternate paths represent a deficit, we tell the students that their experiences indicate that they were “too interesting” to have wanted to finish college at 22. “Oh!” one student responded to that observation recently, “I never thought about it that way. I have done a lot of really cool things!”
In many ways these students could reinforce the argument, coming loudly of late from various educational reform circles, that college is irrelevant for today’s workplace or societal needs. There is certainly no deficit in who these students are as professionals or as members of the community and by multiple measures they have indeed achieved considerable success without the benefit of a college degree. However, their own reflections before they graduate tell a different story, one that strongly reinforces the value of the degree and the importance of adjusting traditional structures within universities to create full access for these nontraditional students.
About two years after students begin, when they are seniors at the university, we engage them in rich dialogue as they reflect on their learning experiences as part of their senior capstone course. They prepare a portfolio in which they present compiled evidence about the relevance of the courses that they have taken. The thoughtful narratives that they present show both enthusiasm for their instructors and the deep value that they place on their course learning experiences, demonstrating that college has indeed become both a deeply important part of who they are and relevant to their imagination about how they will appropriate their own futures.
Listen to the media or our politicians and you get the impression that there is but one way to experience college: as an 18-22 year old who moves away from home, lives on campus, and finishes a degree after four years of being a full-time student. And yet, depending on your definitions, nontraditional students compose up to 73% of today’s undergraduates in the United States, truly representing a new majority on college campuses.
In our webinar, we will explore the ways that the sheer numbers of nontraditional students represent a revolution on campus. We will also explore the reasons that this change captures the very best marriage between traditional structures and the emerging movement toward having learners reclaim agency about what they learn and the relevance of that learning to their lives. We will cover the necessary changes that institutions and the faculty, staff, and advisors who work in them need to make to best empower learning for and with this new majority of college students.
To see this new majority succeed in imagining new worlds into being requires innovative thinking about teaching, advising, and otherwise supporting these students and we look forward to learning through conversation with the webinar participants. We are also very honored to be working with Nexus4Change, a fantastic organization that has adopted a mission of global change on a variety of important issues.
In the first part of our webinar series, we will discuss considerations related to teaching nontraditional learners. Many educational institutions share a commitment to make education accessible; to truly do so requires meeting students where they are and developing teaching and administrative approaches that facilitate their progress toward individually appropriated goals. We will explore means for doing so in the second week of this webinar, especially focusing on building a culture that embraces this new majority as a full and relevent part of the university community.
We are passionate about our students, for they inspire and teach us; we are eager to share our enthusiasm with you. To read more and to register for this (free) webinar, please use this link. We look forward to the conversation!