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5 Ways Nontraditional Students Are Influencing Higher Education

We’ve all experienced it – new and advancing technologies, worldwide events reshaping society, the impact of social media platforms – the list goes on. Our communities are continuously evolving and adapting to new “normals.” How we live, work and learn is changing at a rapid rate, and as society continues to shift, the education system must follow. 

In an article published by Columbus Underground, “5 Higher Education Trends and What they Mean for Central Ohio’s Workforce,” Dr. David Decker, president of Franklin University, provided insight on how higher education can best meet the needs of increasing numbers of nontraditional students and the changing needs of the workforce. 

Dr. Decker shared the following observations.

1. The Number of Nontraditional Students is Increasing 

Consider higher education and what you’d call a traditional college student. You’re likely thinking a recent high-school graduate who typically goes to a university or community college in their late-teen years, or you’re considering a young person who takes classes here and there but still graduates before the age of 25. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2020, 37% of college students are over the age of 25. This statistic shows college landscapes are shifting due to a new age of students – a melting pot of individuals who aren’t classified by traditional standards. These students are working professionals, have families, are considering a career change, wanting to gain skills for in-demand jobs and more.

Dr. Decker believes the number of nontraditional students at universities and colleges will continue to grow.

“If higher education is going to tap into this market, they have to meet the demands of students who balance demanding professional and personal lives in addition to their education,” Decker said. "If higher education institutions want to accommodate all of their students and prospects, they must be understanding, flexible and adaptable to their entire student body." 

Dr. Decker explains data can easily show how many people were born in a certain time period and the amount of high school graduates in any given location per year. He continues, saying it is much more difficult to forecast nontraditional students considering higher education.

“There’s no limit to nontraditional students,” he says. “Whether it’s adults who haven’t earned a degree or those who could pursue an advanced degree.” 


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2. Online Learning is Outpacing Face-to-Face Instruction

The shift from on-campus degrees to an online format shows online education is now outpacing face-to-face learning.

According to labor analytics firm EMSI, there has been a 50% increase in completions of online degrees from 2012-2018, while standard, on-campus degree programs have declined by 4%.

“The question isn’t whether online degrees are in demand," Decker says, "it’s if you can deliver quality in addition to flexibility.”

For over 25 years, Franklin University has been among few colleges and universities at the forefront of online education. As more and more students are turning to online degree programs, Franklin faculty and staff continuously adapt and adjust the online curriculum to maintain relevance. The online platform is simple and direct, thus enforcing Franklin’s prominent place as an institution excelling in online learning.  

Dr. Decker explains flexibility is a game-changing feature in higher education. Individuals want to finish their degree at their own pace while working, traveling or studying at home. For this reason, online education has become a preferred way of learning for professionals taking on educational feats. For institutions worldwide, it’s more than providing online classes and programs, it’s how well they’re able to match the demands of their students who have lives outside of their education.

3. Data Plays an Important Role in the Student Experience

With ever-changing goals for universities and colleges, there is one thing in common – the need to increase student retention. Student retention is an ongoing concern, but with access to data and analytics, universities and colleges are able to access information about their students and adjust how they approach keeping them enrolled.

At Franklin, data is a key contributor to understanding the university’s students.

“We take a very scientific approach,” says Dr. Decker. “We define tangible educational outcomes and track student performance in all courses. We’re able to identify areas where students struggle and adjust the way we present the material, the order of lessons or other modifications that will raise the level of achievement.”

Dr. Decker explains the future of student success must be enforced through rigorous data. By understanding the data collected per course and per program, Franklin can improve how students are educated and supported while attending the university.

“That’s why at Franklin we are so diligent in reporting on data both internally and to accreditors, whether it’s on achievement by course, program, degree or student demographics,” says Dr. Decker. 

4. Relevant Skills Differentiate High Performers from their Peers

In an ever-changing global climate, the question is: Is a college degree still worth it? Over the years, people have anticipated a decline in traditional college degrees. With educational opportunities like micro-credentialing, online courses and tech bootcamps, more industries are demanding practical skills. 

According to a national survey of HR professionals conducted by Northeastern University, the value of educational credentials in hiring has either increased (48%) or remained consistent (29%) in the last five years. 

“There will always be many manifestations of higher education – from small, private liberal arts colleges to large, public research universities," Decker said, "but there’s a push in today’s market to not only produce graduates, but prepared professionals. I believe it is our responsibility as a higher education institution to raise the level of skills of the workforce and take on the challenges of an expanding economy. At Franklin, we’ve chosen to specialize in professionally oriented and skills-based education. We believe that graduates who are ready to hit the ground running on day one will be more attractive candidates, bring more value to their employers and be better prepared to achieve their career goals.” 

5. Educational Benefits Work for Everyone

Continuing education keeps employees at the top of their game so they can be their best for their organizations. Colleges and universities alike are increasingly adding programs, certifications and micro-credentialing opportunities so individuals can continue to expand upon their education without having to commit to a full degree program. By pursuing these educational endeavors, employees remain engaged and driven, bringing a fresh perspective and new thinking that keeps organizations at the cutting edge. 

Franklin University, for example, has over 100 corporate partners through its FranklinWORKS program. The university is dedicated to building strong and lasting partnerships in which organizations provide easily accessible education to their employees. Through partnership programs, employers are able to provide their associates access to accelerated degrees; specialized, shorter programs; certifications and customized training. Providing continuing education resources gives employers an advantage in building and retaining skilled professionals within their organizations.

“There is a correlation between higher levels of education and employee retention,” Dr. Decker said. “When corporations invest in education, it will not only enhance an employee’s contribution to their organization, but will help retain highly skilled employees because they feel valued.” Employee education builds talent and allows for employers to grow and retain their employees.

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