Recruit & Retain (Nyack College)

Adult Student Challenges

Retaining students through relationships.

It is no secret that retaining adult students involves a particularly unique set of challenges for continuing education administrators and faculty. The pressures of working full- or part-time, caring for a family, and returning to school can become overwhelming at best for many adult students. Often this balancing act becomes too difficult for many adult students and they are faced with the unpleasant decision to withdraw from their classes. The Division of Adult and Distance Education at Nyack College in Nyack, NY, has found that taking a relational approach toward their adult students has helped to exceed a 90 percent retention rate.

 Surrounded With Support

From the moment a student is admitted into the Division of Adult and Distance Education, she/he is assigned an academic advisor. This academic advisor becomes the student’s main point of contact for all questions and concerns until he or she graduates. The advisor/advisee relationship lends to individualized support and encouragement.

In addition to the support of the academic advisor, the student is placed into a cohort-based classroom. Fifteen to 20 students remain together as a group while they move through the required course work. A primary instructor acts as the lead faculty member, teaching several of the courses and serving as the mentor for the capstone research project. The instructor also develops a relationship with each student and works in tandem with the academic advisor to ensure that each student is meeting key milestones through their enrollment.

The cohort-based classroom environment creates a peer-support system. Students hold each other accountable and encourage each other to stay the course. Often times the relationships that are forged among students lasts far beyond their enrollment.

Meaningful Flexibility

Flexibility in learning is an important and necessary element to any continuing education program. In the Nyack program, flexibility is offered within a framework that incorporates accountability and support. Again, the relationship that the student, academic advisor, and primary instructor share allows a team approach to helping students create a degree completion plan that fits with the specific needs of the student while ensuring continued enrollment. Students are offered a variety of methods to complete degree requirements including accelerated courses, online courses, CLEP and DANTES exams, as well as documenting life and work experience for college credit. Through the relationships that have developed, the student and advisor can engage in a meaningful dialogue about which class format will be most effective for the student’s life/work/school balance.

Applicable Learning

Another important element that Nyack’s Division of Adult and Distance Education believes helps to retain their adult students is making the classroom learning immediately applicable. While students are immersed in theory and current research, they are also challenged to connect this learning to their own personal and professional lives. Students become excited to see that their learning has immediate value in the workplace and it helps to keep them motivated to finish.

Students work on a year-long applied research project, where they are asked to identify an issue within an organization they are connected with that could benefit from positive change. While completing their course work, the students are simultaneously applying this learning to their research project. Through this process students become keenly aware of identifying, researching, and offering meaningful change to the organizations in which they are personally involved.

Adult students seem to respond well to the individualized care and relationships that they form in the program. Recognizing that each student enters the program with a unique set of challenges in obtaining their degree has helped Nyack’s Division of Adult and Distance Education to develop a support system that has been successful in retaining their adult learners.

Julie Hood is a lecturer in Organizational Management at Nyack College in New York. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management June 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.