Community colleges starting to offer flexible schedules for adult learners

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker holds 10 different jobs before age 40, and this number is projected to grow. In fact, some research suggests that today's youngest workers will hold 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetimes. This places a new perspective on the urgency and importance of lifelong learning, because it means that most likely, one's career path will require continuing education beyond an initial degree or certificate.

Many adults returning for additional degrees, classes or certifications have families, careers and other commitments, meaning the amount of time they can devote to taking classes is limited. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, 41 percent of community college students are now part-time students who are employed full-time. Also, 17 percent of students are single parents. So for many students, education competes with responsibilities for families and careers.

Meeting the educational needs of our students is the primary consideration when developing the class schedule each semester, and this demand for additional degrees and certificates throughout life is why community colleges have begun to embrace a concept sometimes known as responsive scheduling, which means that we offer classes in formats and timing that answer the need for greater flexibility for today's busy students.

At Waubonsee Community College, we began efforts to answer student scheduling needs by offering self-paced open entry courses and then online courses. Today, the schedule offerings are as diverse as our students, and we offer four-week, eight-week, 12-week, 16-week, evening, weekend, online and hybrid courses. These flexible learning options respond to that desire from our students to fit learning into their already full lives.

A new and growing-in-popularity option for many of our students is what we refer to as "late start, great start," classes, or classes that are offered for 12 weeks, face-to-face at our Plano Campus. These classes are accelerated in format and allow students to start their semester a few weeks later than the traditional semester start dates.

Another increasingly popular way of offering classes is known as hybrid courses, where students combine learning online and face-to-face. This "best of both worlds" approach to learning allows students to build connections and community by meeting in person a few times over the span of the course, but also learn at their own pace and place by material posted online.

We were thrilled that our data have shown that these scheduling variations are just as effective as the traditional 16-week course. But as we adapt to the new reality of course scheduling needs, we are constantly refining to meet student needs and drive completion.

As we've created new scheduling options and offered greater flexibility to our students, a world of opportunity and innovation has opened up. This fall, we'll launch a unique program thanks to a generous grant from the Dunham Fund. The Dunham Fund Quick Path will allow 20 students to earn a fully transferable associate degree in just one year.

While community colleges have always been advocates and providers of lifelong learning, our changing world now not only embraces this concept, but demands it. Responsive scheduling allows faculty and staff to provide quality teaching and learning options that truly match our students' needs.

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