Academic Quality and Adult Students: Research to Communicate Smarter

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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One of the major trends we are seeing is a transition from an institution-centric orientation (what a college wants to say…and do) to an audience-centric orientation (what a student needs and expects).

While this is an important perspective for students of all ages and types, it is especially true for adult and graduate students.

Perhaps the best illustration of this shift is how adult and graduate students define academic quality. In a recent Stamats study we asked adult students to identify what “academic quality” means to them.

How Adult Students Define Academic Quality

Here is what adult students tell us about academic quality:

  • Flexibility/scheduling: “On my schedule, not just when they want to teach.”
  • Convenience: “In-and-out parking; one-stop shop.”
  • Credit for life experience: “Acknowledge what I have already learned through my professional experience.”
  • Accelerated completion: “Time is money.”
  • Valid and focused learning experience: “I’m not here for the social life.”
  • Multiple learning alternatives: “I’m very interested in online options.”
  • Course availability: “The courses need to be taught on a schedule so I can get done.”
  • Outcomes: “I want a job after graduation.”

Compare What Students Say With What Colleges Say

Compare these results to the narrower and more internally focused components that most colleges use to describe academic quality:

  • Quality of faculty
  • Quality of the curriculum
  • Quality of facilities
  • Academic ability of students

The difference in perspective is readily apparent. One can see the problem that occurs when schools force an institution-centric definition of academic quality or student life on students who insist on a voice, and a role, in their educational experience.

Recognize Orientation to Communicate Smarter

Imagine recruiting adult or graduate students and insisting on using an institution-centric definition of academic quality.

  • How would these students respond to your messaging?
  • What would your communication tell them about how much you understand their needs and expectations?
  • What would it tell them about the experience they will likely have at your institution?

The transition to audience-centricity has huge implications for what is taught, how it is taught, and when it is taught. Ramifications extend to co- and extracurricular activities as well as student retention.

Smart colleges recognize the difference between being institution-centric and audience-centric. Even smarter colleges act on it.

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