Colleges Slow to Adjust to New Norm of Part-Time Students

, Spencer Irvine, 1 Comment

Universities and colleges are slow to adjust to the new student: one who isn’t full-time and living on-campus, but the adult, working college student. At an event held by the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, a college president, a director of community college policy analysis and a for-profit institution’s academic strategy president discussed the implications of the changing higher education landscape.

John Ebersole, president of Excelsior College in New York, said, “It’s time for us, the public policy community, to understand the students.” It is “not typical today” for students to be full-time, enrolled students on brick-and-mortar college campuses. His college is different than most because they do not receive state funding and cater to older, working college students. For colleges like his, Ebersole said, “These are not commercial enterprises. These are efforts to provide knowledge.”

Today, “virtually every institution has some of these students in it, but not all of them are serving them well.” Ebersole called this movement to older, working and part-time students “[a] huge shift in seeking education today.” The old catchphrase of “lifelong learning” is “no longer is a catchphrase, it’s a reality,” said Ebersole. Colleges have to switch gears and should be “encouraging people to go to school” or go back to school to receive their college degree. Too often, “our traditional programs…are centered around full-time learning” and not part-time students.

Peter Smith, who works as Kaplan’s president of academic strategy, argues that there needs to be “a balance of the current posture of the Department of Education” and the growing markets of education innovation. Perhaps not too surprisingly, he thinks that the gainful employment rule, recently enacted by the Department of Education, is “a bad idea,” Smith noted.

Nassirian, the director of federal relations and policy analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said it “is likely to be refined” because “this regulation is now not even a fig leaf. It doesn’t bother me anymore.” Similarly, he believes that President Obama’s college ratings system is “pretty much dead, politically.”

Nevertheless, he admits that “tribalism in higher ed” is rampant, creating an “insular” culture that “has hampered the response of the industry” to the rise of MOOCs, for-profit institutions and distance learning. The old way of education, which Nassirian called the “holy trinity of education,” was composed of “curriculum, instruction [and] assessment.” Today, he said, “learning outside the classroom…That’s absolutely credible.”