“…many hands and hearts and minds generally contribute to anyone’s notable achievements. We share, to a large extent, one another’s fate. We help create those circumstances which favor or challenge us in meeting our objectives and realizing our dreams.” ~Walt Disney
I want to introduce you to an incredible friend of mine. Her name is Denise. She would be the first to admit, that she was NOT a runner. She laughed that she could barely run half a block without getting winded. Denise, her husband Hansen and another couple decided to run a marathon. Once they registered and paid the money, there was no turning back. The goal was set. Now they needed a plan. They purchased the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer which helped them lay out their training regimen. With a plan in place, all they needed was determination and commitment to the plan. They started in June. The marathon was in October. There were many days when one of the fearsome four didn’t feel like running or training. They lifted each other up with encouragement and support. I am happy to report they all ran in the Chicago marathon, and finished with respectable times. The entire experience and the feeling of achievement were unbelievable!
Pursuing your education is a lot like running a marathon. Although the activities are more mental than physical, the process is the same. You set a goal for yourself – to complete your degree or pursue advanced education. You laid out a plan that seemed to make sense. Now comes the hard part – life happens – especially in adult education. You have obligations to yourself, your family, your work, your church, your community and your friends. Your best laid plans now seem obscure. Don’t give up on your goal. This is where the commitment and determination are paramount. This is when you reach out to others who are in a similar situation for help, support and encouragement – your fellow students. Just as Denise discovered, the training was tough – something she had never experienced before. Through faith, determination and perseverance she stayed committed to the goal. As she discovered, the end result was well worth the effort. Your education will change your life.
One of the core issues in adult education is the extent to which traditional students differ from adult students. It is a marketing issue in that we have to identify and understand the differences in order to package our message in a meaningful and relevant way. It is more complex than buying ads on the right radio stations or getting them in strategically targeted publications. We have to understand the subtle nuances that characterize both traditional and adult learners in order to reach their emotions or, perhaps more descriptive, their hearts. The extent to which traditional students differ from adult students is also a student services issue in that both groups represent different sets of life circumstances that we must understand in order to meet the needs of our students while they are with us and, ultimately, retain them through to graduation.
Here’s a proposed axiom that, for me anyway, describes the core difference between traditional students and adults and that may provide a framework that could drive our marketing and student services activities: Traditional students function in a “present” that is interpreted by the future; adult students function in a “present” that is interpreted by the past. As an adult education professional, here’s how this reality might inform what we do in reaching and retaining adult students:
· Realizing that the past informs adults’ decisions to return to (and stay in) college, those who work in the admission and student services functions must listen to our students’ stories. For adult learners, these stories usually center on a crisis such as divorce, loss of a job, being passed over for a promotion, or some other type of loss in their lives. By taking the time to encourage discussion of the things that drive our students to us, we will reach their hearts and position ourselves to affect their lives.
· Classroom experiences should be designed as safe places to discuss our student’s stories. At Christian institutions such as Belhaven, this can be done during a period of biblical reflection and prayer. As is true in our admission and student services processes, this type of discussion should be proactively encouraged by the instructor – realizing that this type of openness can set the stage for more productive curricular discussion later in the class. In addition, typical adult life circumstances could be intentionally woven into a lesson plan – discussing the effect of a personal crisis (divorce, for example) on one’s ability to lead in the workplace.
Ultimately, by making prospective or current students’ “stories” a priority in our discussions with them, they will perceive an environment that is emotionally safe and attractive, and we will have reached the seat of every adult’s decision making processes – the heart.