This month, millions of college students will head back to the classroom. While many of them will be the traditional college-age students, adults comprise a growing segment of that college student population.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than 40 percent of students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs are 25 or older. Between now and 2024, the number of postsecondary students age 25 and older is expected to grow to more than 9 million. And the majority, about 5.4 million, will be attending classes part-time according to the agency’s figures.
Those numbers are no surprise to us at Indiana Wesleyan University, where for the past 33 years, we have dedicated resources to meeting the educational needs of working adults.
Our university system includes IWU—Marion, where about 3,000 students are enrolled in traditional programs on the main campus in Marion, Ind.; IWU—National & Global, which includes more than 10,000 adult learners throughout the world who study online or onsite at 15 education centers in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio; and Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University, which offers a practical and student-centered approach for busy, working ministers. IWU’s DeVoe School of Business, the School of Nursing, the School of Health Sciences, the School of Educational Leadership, the School of Service and Leadership, and the Division of Liberal Arts are all housed within the National & Global campus, and they are the schools that are significant draws to adult students.
Since 1985 — when we first launched our Leadership Education for Adult Professionals program — IWU-National & Global has been a leader in providing college courses geared toward working adults. We have more than 80 online and onsite degree programs.
When colleges began offering online education, IWU-National & Global was one of the first to provide that option to our students. IWU began offering online education in 1997 and launched its first fully-online MBA program in 1998. Today, adult learners can enroll in certificate as well as associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs. Ohio’s total online enrollment numbered 1,353 students at the end of June 2018, and our total online enrollment was 7,443.
Our program works because of its flexibility. We have students who take a combination of onsite and online classes; students who start online and finish onsite, and vice versa. At IWU-National & Global, we excel in taking care of the educational needs of adult students. We understand who they are. They are single, married, widowed, divorced, parents, veterans, active duty military, employed, unemployed or underemployed individuals. IWU students aspire to be accountants, counselors, entrepreneurs, health care administrators, nurses, managers, pastors, police chiefs, teachers, and more.
A distinction of IWU National & Global’s online degree programs is that programs are not scheduled according to the traditional fall/spring/summer course calendar. In addition, working adults like the option to log on whenever and wherever they like to do their classwork.
The flexibility has been crucial for all of our students, including these examples from Ohio:
• In Cincinnati, a 58-year-old U.S. Army sergeant was attending classes onsite to complete a Master of Management and was able to switch to online classes when he was deployed to Washington, D.C. He graduated in April 2018.
• In Cleveland, a 42-year-old officer candidate in the U.S. Merchant Marines was able to switch from onsite classes to online classes to complete his bachelor’s degree.
• In Columbus, a single mom is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in addiction counseling through a fully online program. Employed full-time as a patient account representative at a local major hospital, she has said that the online classes are the only way she could go back to college because they allow her to continue working full time while maintaining a stable home for her two young children.
Adults, like any college student, also struggle with paying for their education. And in some cases, that struggle is compounded by the fact that they have other debts — mortgages, car loans, credit cards, possibly even college tuition for their own children.
At IWU National & Global, we work actively with employers to make education for their employees as affordable as possible. In fact, IWU has partnerships through which it offers tuition discounts to students who are employed at such Ohio companies as the American Institute of Alternative Medicine, Cleveland Clinic, The MetroHealth System, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Premier Health-Ohio, Progressive Insurance, Summa Health, University Hospitals Health System, White Castle System, Inc., and Dayton Christian School.
We recognize that in Ohio there are many options in higher education, and there are even more options available to working adults seeking an online degree program. We are dedicated to helping our students achieve their academic goals because we understand that an educated workforce makes for a stronger workforce.
Carson D. Castleman, Ph.D., is vice president of regional education and innovation at Indiana Wesleyan University. He works with the regional deans at IWU-National & Global, which includes the more than 10,000 adult learners throughout the world who are enrolled at IWU.