The role of adult education at Villanova

Thomas Celona

Like any another Villanova student, Michael Hallman anticipates the beginning of new classes. He splits his time between course work, social activities and extracurricular interests. He smiles brightly while discussing his plans for the weekend. As he sits in Connelly Center, taking a quick break from his busy schedule, Hallman seems just like any typical ‘Nova undergrad.

But what makes Hallman different?

He is 30 years old, while most of his junior classmates are still planning their 21st birthday parties.

Michael is just one of a growing number of nontraditional students on Villanova’s campus and in higher education across America. Because of this rising trend, the University is expanding programs to meet the needs of this demographic while also celebrating the past successes of its adult-education programs.

Just recently, the Association for Nontraditional Students in High Education celebrated Nontraditional Students Recognition Week. From Nov. 4-10, ANTSHE encouraged colleges across the nation to acknowledge nontraditional students and the attempts institutions are making to advance adult education, according ANTSHE’s Web site. The week was intended to place the spotlight on what is an often-overlooked demographic.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a nontraditional student is anyone in higher education who fulfills any of the following seven criteria: delayed enrollment following high school, part-time attendance, full-time employment while enrolled, financial independence, dependents other than a spouse, single parent or lack of a high school diploma.

Students are designated as highly nontraditional if they fit into four or more categories, moderately nontraditional if they fit into two or three and minimally nontraditional if they have only one characteristic of a nontraditional student, according to the NCES.

Hallman falls into the category of moderately nontraditional. After graduating high school, he enrolled at Drexel University but left after only one semester, choosing not to return to college until age 28. Hallman is also completely financially independent.

While Hallman’s decision to reenter college life may seem unusual to some, he is actually part of a significantly large portion of the nation’s college population. According to a 2000 survey conducted by the NCES, traditional students comprised only 27 percent of the population, actually making nontraditional students the majority. Of the remaining 73 percent, 28 percent of students were considered highly nontraditional.

These numbers represent a significant increase. According to the same survey, “Between 1992-’93 and 1999-2000, the percentages of students who delayed enrollment, worked full time, had dependents and were single parents all increased.”

These increases present American higher education with significant new challenges. Because these students often have outside commitments – such as children or jobs – competing for their time, schoolwork can often be a burden, leading to a high percentage of students who do not complete their degree programs. However, American universities have recognized this problem and are making strides to meet the needs of nontraditional students.

Hallman expressed the problems and concerns he encountered when he made the choice to reenroll.

“You just don’t know what to expect,” he said. “You’re wary it’s going to make you stand out in the wrong ways.”

However, Hallman said that the programs and people at Villanova eased his apprehensions and made his transition back into college life smooth.

“I believe I’ve blended in as well as a 30-year-old can,” he said.

Hallman attributes much of this success to Villanova’s Office of Part-Time Studies.

Part-Time Studies, designed to fulfill the academic goals of adult students pursuing degrees, has been helping this demographic for 90 years.

Beginning next month, Part-Time Studies will sponsor a year-long celebration of its 90th anniversary. This month Part-Times Studies will publish the 90th Anniversary Magazine, according to its Web site. Celebrations will continue with speakers and gatherings throughout the year, culminating with a celebratory gala on Dec. 6, 2008.

Part-Time Studies offers programs to adults who are either beginning the courses for a bachelor’s degree or who started but did not complete their degree program either at Villanova or another institution. In addition to offering the traditional bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees in a number of fields, Part-Time Studies offers the bachelor of interdisciplinary studies degree. This degree has more flexible requirements designed for the needs of adult students, according to Part-Time Studies’ Web site.

In addition to its degree programs, Part-Time Studies offers the Senior Citizens Personal Enrichment Program. Through this initiative, individuals age 65 or older are able to enroll in undergraduate classes free of charge.

As Part-Time Studies celebrates its first 90 years of success, another newer program continues to experience growth as it serves the needs of adult learners – the Office of Continuing Studies.

“We are the non-credit side of adult education for individuals who want some type of professional development,” said Mary Bustamante, director of Continuing Studies.

While Continuing Studies does not offer courses for degree credit, its programs aim to provide learners with practical career-oriented training, and some lead to certification.

Continuing Studies programs are divided into four main “tracks,” as Bustamante described them.

The first, the Human Resource Management Program, began around 1990, and aims to offer the essential skills needed by individuals beginning in human resources. The program works with the Society for Human Resource Management, and Bustamante described the track as one of the leading providers in the United States.

The second is the Paralegal Program. Bustamante noted that this track especially has seen a large disparity in ages over the past years. Some students come right out of college, while others have already had different careers.

“That’s what makes the program wonderful,” Bustamante said of the diversity of the track’s students.

The third program is Project Management, which partners with the Project Management Institute to offer training and certification review. The final track encompasses Financial Training, offering certification for accountants and instruction for treasury professionals and supply chain managers.

Additionally, Continuing Studies offers courses in English as a second language, fundraising for nonprofit organizations and drug and alcohol counseling.

“They’re reaching out and benefiting members of the community,” Bustamante said.

Furthermore, Continuing Studies offers distance learning for adult students through online courses. The office offers between 25 and 30 courses at a time, with individuals from all across the country enrolling. Military personnel stationed outside of the United States often take advantage of the courses as well, Bustamante said.

Across all of its programs and courses, Continuing Studies has experienced major growth in the past few years, reflecting the national trends in adult education. “There’s definitely been an increase in enrollment in our programs,” Bustamante said.

Much of this increase has come through the online offerings.

“We’re enrolling close to 1,000 new students each month,” Bustamante said.

Approximately 1,000 new students enroll each year in the in-class courses. Bustamante believes that the rise in Continuing Studies and adult education nationwide can partially be attributed to changes in technology that have altered how business is conducted.

“You can’t finish a degree program at 22 and not expect to go back to school,” she said.

Bustamante also feels that Villanova has been successful in meeting the needs of its nontraditional students because of the University’s emphasis on a never-ending education.”It goes back to the concept of life-long learning,” she said. “That’s the key.”

And life-long learning is exactly what brought Hallman back to Villanova. His renewed excitement about education dragged him from the “real world” back to college life at age 28, and he said he could not be happier with the opportunities the University has offered him as a nontraditional student.

“To be here after all I’ve been through … I pinch myself sometimes,” he said.