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Getting Older Students Into the Mix

Inside Higher Ed

Key Demographic

Bruce Chaloux, director of student access programs and services for the Southern Regional Education Board, says colleges in his region have long missed out on a key demographic. By his group’s count, 20 million 25- to 55-year-olds in 16 southern states have enrolled at a college but left without a degree.

“Some institutions have reached out to them, but it hasn’t been a broad effort,” Chaloux said. “We’re making the argument that this is your work force, and you need to craft programs that allow adults to complete their degrees.”

The SREB has initially focused its attention on one state and hopes to replicate that effort elsewhere. Working with the Louisiana Board of Regents and an education consortium, the group is promoting “Continuum For All Louisiana Learners (CALL)” to try to improve access to higher education for older students, and to help colleges boost their enrollment numbers. Chaloux and others are calling on institutions to create short, online courses, and to consider giving credit to older students for work and life experiences.

In Kentucky, the state’s main agency that seeks to improve higher education access is trying out a grant program that, in the pilot year, took aim at students who had never taken a college course. By subsidizing the students’ first few credit hours, the idea is that they will continue to take classes until earning an associate or bachelor’s degree.

These efforts, replicated in various forms across the country, represent attempts by states and education groups to focus on a growing base of “nontraditional” students that will be central to colleges’ academic planning and economic well-being for years to come, according to Sean Gallagher, director of the continuing and professional education learning collaborative at the research and consulting group Eduventures.

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