Ed Parker, American Kenpo Grandmaster, once said, “The intelligent man is one who has successfully fulfilled many accomplishments, and is yet willing to learn more.”
Many adults, having made their mark on the world in their current profession, decided in recent years to seek further education to enhance their current careers or to begin new ones. As these wage-earners began to register for college classes, they quickly realized the traditional class offerings for a four-year degree available during the daylight hours were not sufficient for their needs. Schools quickly responded by offering alternatives that allow the adult student – whether entering college for the first time or continuing educational goals begun decades before – flexibility and choice.
In addition to customized classroom options, some post-secondary institutions are now offering on-site childcare, credit for life experience, credit by exam and senior citizen discounts.
Adults Learn Differently
“The adult student in today’s world is very different,” explained Charlotte Bentley, campus director for the Summerlin and Green Valley branches of Regis University. “Most of our students’ lives were interrupted somewhere along the line – they began college and life happened. They got married, had children, cared for elderly or sick family members. Now they really want to go back to school. There are not a lot of schools that provide them that opportunity. Publicly-supported schools can serve some of the needs, but that is not their fundamental mission.”
Regis University’s program has been created specifically for working adults. Three years of work experience is required for admission, and courses are provided at night and accelerated in design. “Adults bring a wealth of experience to class themselves,” said Bentley. Students may also participate in “portfolio learning”, wherein experience gained in the workplace is translated into college credit.
Regis University is a nationally recognized institution with a religious basis. The school is one of 28 Jesuit Universities. “Jesuits have a long history of rigorous academic integrity,” noted Bentley.
The first “alternative” types of classes to be offered were evening courses initiated by schools eager to attract those students who wanted to extend their education or focus on a new development in their field. Evening and weekend classes are offered at most universities and colleges today, though some limit the evening curriculum. A student who is focused on attaining a degree should consult with a school counselor to ensure it can be completed without requiring daytime course work.
Mary Peterson, vice president academic affairs for Sierra Nevada College, explains, “Many of our students come to us after a day of work or part-time work.” For this reason, Sierra Nevada College offers classes in both Northern and Southern Nevada that students can attend at night. This is especially important to those enrolled in the school’s fifth-year teacher education program. This program provides teaching licensure education to students who currently have a degree in a field other than education, but now want to pursue a teaching career. “They are required to come to us with a bachelor’s degree, and they can complete the program within three semesters if they choose to use the fast track,” said Peterson.
Evening classes help to fit educational opportunities into the working person’s schedule, but it can be grueling to attend classes and maintain that evening schedule for an entire semester. Working adults often have to travel for work, or have family commitments that preclude setting aside three evenings a week for a 12-week period.
The class schedule for an accelerated class is more intense, but requires less time to complete. As an added benefit of this type of class structure, students can graduate and begin their new career more quickly.
The University of Phoenix has been a pioneer in alternative methods of delivering education. According to Steve Soukup, president, the university’s five-week-long undergraduate classes and six-week-long graduate classes ready its students for today’s fast-paced business world. “The future holds many challenges, but the most important is to be able to deliver production in a timely manner,” he stated. “Our students become very adept at completing assignments and coursework, while balancing many other priorities in their lives. By managing their work lives, their personal lives and school, they become more valuable to employers who require busy schedules and multiple projects all at the same time.”
The University of Oklahoma offers classes through a site on Nellis Air Force Base that is available to civilians as well as military personnel. (Military personnel and Department of Defense civilians have priority.) A graduate-level program in public administration is currently offered, using an intensive format. The classes run six days, with classes held Monday through Thursday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. Each course is worth two credit hours, with an option to add a third credit by performing an additional assignment.
The Upside-Down Approach
Morrison University in Reno provides intensive classes that allow students to earn an associate’s degree in a year to 18 months and a bachelor’s degree within 30 months. A master’s can be added to an existing diploma in one year or less.
Richard Farmer, president, explains the unique “upside-down” approach provided by the institution, wherein students begin with an associate’s degree in their chosen field and then add basic classes to receive their bachelor’s degree. “Most students lose interest within the first 10 weeks of college because today’s generation is anxious to have hands-on experience in their chosen field. The upside-down approach allows students to jump right into core courses, and thus generates immediate interest in the field they have selected,” he explained. “It also allows students to assess whether or not they really want to be in the field they have chosen.” Evening classes are currently available, and online courses will be available within the year.
Distant learning means something different at nearly every learning institution. Some facilities utilize cable television to provide educational opportunities to those who may not have easy access to a campus. Other schools use the more traditional methods of correspondence by mail or videotapes to provide instruction. Generally, in each of these cases, an instructor is assigned to distant-learning students, and assistance is available via telephone, email or written request.
Technology has provided new delivery mechanisms for education as well. Online education, which began with repetition of class assignments on a Website, has transformed into a robust teaching format. Classroom lectures can be downloaded, interaction with other students can be accomplished through bulletin boards, and many instructors now hold “virtual” office hours via email or chat.
Online sessions are efficient, requiring neither student nor teacher to drive to a meeting place, and they are available at any hour of the day or night. Adults working multiple shifts can be served easily at their convenience.
Embry Riddle Aeronautical University at Nellis Air Force Base uses online education to assist its students, in addition to its classroom on-base and a classroom near the North Las Vegas Air Terminal. Julie Williamson, center director of operations, explains Embry Riddle’s unique classes provide access to educational opportunities for students stationed overseas. “Students take classes with people who are all over the world. A class may include people from Kuwait, Korea and Germany,” she stated. The University uses the Blackboard 6.0 system to operate online courses, and books are shipped to the students. “I tell my students they have to have initiative and be motivated,” explained Williamson. “Students should set aside a time when they would normally be in class to go to the computer and work.”
Teaching the Teachers
Though staying on top of subject matter is important in all fields, it is perhaps most important for the teacher. As theories, technology and information expand, classroom educators must constantly re-educate themselves with the latest information.
Nova Southeastern University offers a program specifically designed for educators that includes undergraduate work, graduate programs and doctorate courses in educational leadership and higher education.
“Our primary focus is the area of adult education. We tailor our courses and class schedules to address the needs of people who are working all day,” noted David Guerin, Las Vegas Educational Site director. The school is a not-for-profit institution, and its main campus is located in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Sierra Nevada College has also seen great demand for its teacher education program. The program has been in place since 1989, and generally serves 200 to 300 students at any one time. The Las Vegas site, which opened in 1999, currently serves 55 students who attend classes in the evenings and on weekends.
Public Universities and Colleges
The University of Nevada Las Vegas and University of Nevada Reno both offer adult education access in the evenings and through online programs. Nevada State College also offers some evening courses. A widespread net of community colleges, including Community College of Southern Nevada, Great Basin College, Truckee Meadows Community College and Western Nevada Community College, reach out to adults with evening, online and distance education offerings.
John Kuhlman, spokesman for the University and Community College System of Nevada, recommends beginning students utilize the system’s 2+2 program. Using this program, students begin their education at a local community college where costs are lower, and then transfer to any of the three state colleges or universities.
Not all post-secondary education is completed at traditional colleges or universities. As technology has become more important to our business world, technical colleges and universities have become more prevalent.
ITT Technical Institute provides three different shifts of classes to accommodate the many work schedules in Las Vegas’ 24-hour work world. Linda Quintana, associate dean, said, “The nice thing about ITT is that we have a hands-on focus, giving students hands-on experience in degree areas.” Students at ITT take three courses per quarter, and attend classes three days a week, or they have the option of taking some classes online.
Unique Course Offerings
Specializing in a niche skill can move working adults from jobs they endure to professions they enjoy. Shawn Saunders, director of admissions at Las Vegas College, reported, “Our specialty is working with students who may have never had a high school diploma, or who are looking for a complete turn-around life change.” One of the courses currently offered only by Las Vegas College is court reporting. Classes at the college are available at night, and begin every six weeks. Some classes can be taken online.
Colleges and universities are not created equal. If you are considering using your four-year degree as a stepping-stone to a master’s degree or doctorate, or if you believe you will need to transfer your credits, you will want to check the accreditation of the educational institution you select.
The most recognized and accepted type of accreditation is regional accreditation.
The Commission on Colleges and Universities of the Northwest Association of Schools and of Colleges and Universities (nwccu.org/) is the accrediting body not only for higher education in Nevada, but also for the local school districts. If a school that you are interested in attending is not accredited by the NWCCU, its credits may not be transferable to other NWCCU schools.
Some schools with locations in Nevada, however, are accredited through the regional accreditation body where their main campus resides. If you intend to transfer credits, inquire both at the school you are attending now, and the school you intend to transfer to, in order to assess which credits are transferable.
Take Time To Learn
Julie Williamson of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University reminds us that education must be a life-long experience. “We wonder why our educational statistics are so low, but we ignore anything that references adults returning to school,” she said.
It is never too late to begin or return to a classroom setting. “You can be flexible when obtaining and continuing your education, and you do not have to sacrifice quality for that flexibility,” said Shawn Saunders, director of admissions at Las Vegas College.