Supporting the Needs of Older Students

By AACC Staff

Programs offer cultural and social supports to help older students enroll in college and hit the ground running.

We talk a lot about how difficult it can sometimes be to get high school students ready for college-level work. But what about older learners who enroll in college in pursuit of upskilling or a second-career? Sometimes these students, who often don’t have the benefits of recent placement scores and transcripts, can prove tougher to place.

Writing for AACC’s Community College Daily, AACC Assistant Editor Tabitha Whissemore details a program at Ohio’s Zane State College (ZSC) that focuses on giving older students the skills they need to succeed in college. What follows is an excerpt of her original article.

To assess older students’ academic levels and to help them get acquainted with the college environment, ZSC developed a pre-enrollment program that offers cultural and social supports, computer literacy and academic skills-building.

QuickStart, which is free to students, has paid off for the college and students, according to ZSC officials. Fifty-six percent of QuickStart participants complete the program. Of them, 60 percent have tested beyond developmental reading and 40 percent tested into the first college composition course.

The program originally was funded by a grant, but now “pays for itself,” according to Becky Ament, dean of developmental education. The cost to run QuickStart is offset by the number of students who officially enroll and pay tuition.

“Tracking our data and demonstrating a return on investment has enabled us to sustain the program,” said Ament, who profiled the program here at the annual conference of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development.

Tracking our data and demonstrating a return on investment has enabled us to sustain the program.

As a result of the program’s success, three other Ohio community colleges have adopted QuickStart.

QuickStart participants are treated like every ZSC student. They get an e-mail account and a student ID, and learn about campus processes. They also receive math and English instruction. To complete the course successfully, students must solve basic math problems and demonstrate knowledge of the writing process. Completers receive three college credits and are ready to “hit the ground running” when they officially enroll at ZSC, Ament says. “It lowers the stakes for adult learners, easing concerns about failure,” she says. The program starts after the regular semester begins, capturing last-minute students who may not understand the process to get started at college.

A self-paced alternative

At El Paso Community College (EPCC) in Texas, students who test into developmental math have options: they can take a traditional, 16-week lecture course or a “math emporium.”

The emporium covers the same material as the traditional course, but it is lab-based, so all instruction is computer-based with support from instructors and tutors. Students work at their own pace, allowing them to complete all three developmental math courses in one semester. And unlike many traditional classrooms, the emporium classroom is “student centered,” according to Lucy Hernandez Michal, an EPCC mathematics professor.

“Faculty doesn’t have to stand up there and do everything,” Hernandez Michal says.

The work can be completed on campus in the lab or off campus online. (All tests are done on campus.) Students’ progress is tracked through MyLabsPlus software.

If students don’t finish all the required sequences in a semester, they start where they left off in the next semester.

Emporium students have a 7 percent higher retention rate than those who take the traditional developmental math course, Hernandez Michal says. Those students also have higher rates of enrolling in and completing college-level math.

“We were able to scale up a little at a time, and each time we learned a little bit about how things can change,” Hernandez Michal says. “We’re engaging across the college.”

For more about EPCC’s emporium program, check out the full article.

AACC Staff

contributed to this report.

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1 Comment

  • Profile photo of Pallavi S

    It is important to treat students and prospective students as individuals and not generalize about their needs or interests. Many older students are not lacking in technological skills or in recent work experience. However, it is true that many older students have a tougher time enrolling and there is also a higher dropout rate, often due to family and other commitments – this is when students need extra support and encouragement.

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