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Commission for Professors of Adult Education

Monday, May 2, 2016  
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Adult Education Programs during Economic Challenges: Finding Strength in Demographic and Digital Diversity

Higher Education institutions in general and Adult and Continuing Education in particular are experiencing extraordinary changes that require diligence, planning and flexibility to remain viable. Because adult education degree program are located within higher education institutions, the viability of these institutions have direct consequences for the adult education programs and departments within them. For many higher education institutions, the austerity programs and measures that were initiated during the recent recession are being maintained in order to brace institutions for unfavorable and changing demographics that will significantly shift the balance regarding the increased costs of higher education, reduced state support, increased costs to students, the types of students recruited to college campuses, the types of programs and services they will demand for their tuition dollars (Mitchell, Palacios, & Leachman, 2014).

While the new terrain is highly unfavorable for many academic departments and programs, they seem to be less unfavorable to those programs that have figured out a matrix for creating value to the departments, schools/colleges and universities in which they are located, and providing exceptional learning opportunities to adult learners. For example, enrollment of adults ages 25 and older has been projected to grow by 25.4% between fall 2008 and fall 2019 (Thorton, 2014). A growth market for many colleges and universities, many of these adults seek alternative course delivery systems, and pay prized tuition dollars while maintaining employment. Based upon over 11 years as a department chair and 8 years as the director of an interdisciplinary doctoral program, I believe adult education departments and programs can not only survive, but actually grow during this period of challenge and change for higher education. To do so, faculty in these programs/departments should consider several strategies. I will identify only three in this message.

First, in an organizational climate focused on increasing efficiencies, and redirecting attention toward recruiting and retaining adult learners to a wide variety of university academic programs, adult education faculty members should redouble their efforts become citizens of the departments, schools/colleges, and universities in which they are located. While providing these services to the university, adult educators can demonstrate their actions, knowledge of adult learners and adult education practice and their insights to the long-term sustainability of the university. Second, be true and consistent in your identity as a faculty and program. For example, for some programs social justice leadership is a key feature of their mission statements around which they have developed their delivery system. Many of the students seeking a masters or doctoral degree want to make a difference in their neighborhoods/communities and places of employment.

They find fulfillment in degree programs that engage them in thoughtful theoretical discussions, allow them to utilize data-based sources to critically analyze and challenge the status quo that seek change. Third, digital technology is a pivotal element in evolving marketing strategies and it is driving a serious wedge between the social and economic haves and have-nots (van Dijk, 2012). Adult education programs should maximize their digital marketing presence via the creation of a Facebook page, faculty LinkedIn accounts, paid ads on Google and other digital media, etc. Also, digital technology can be a key resource for adult learners to develop the digital expertise to become and remain competitive in an increasingly digitized world. Faculty should continuously engaging learners via the use of technology to assist them to not only learn the targeted content, but to also learn a variety of technology platforms. Technology can be applied for various learning and educational purposes.


van Dijk, J. A.G.M. (2012). The evolution of the digital divide: The digital divide turns to inequality of skills and usage. In J. Bus J. et al. (Eds.), Digital Enlightenment Yearbook 2012. (pp. 57-75). doi: 10.3233/978-1-61499-057-4-57.

Mitchell, M., Palacios, V., & Leachman, M. (2014). States are still funding higher education below pre-recession levels. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Grant Thorton (2014) The State of Higher Education in 2014.

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