There is no such thing as a “typical” profile of the adult learner seeking knowledge and economic mobility. Juan is a project manager for a design firm. He is the married father of four (including four-year-old triplets). To advance at work, Juan needed an engineering degree.
Alice, a single mother, works in human resources at an auto dealership. Her lack of formal education inhibits her earning potential. As a recovering alcoholic, her low Grade Point Average (GPA) from her drinking days prohibits access to valuable financial aid, although she now earns straight As.
Bea, also a single parent, worked her way up to a good job in county government. But she lost her job when the economy declined. Her lack of formal education is keeping her from finding a similar position.
Because of Juan, Alice, Bea, and countless other adults in similar situations, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County began its scholarship program for adult learners—men and women who return to a university, college, community college, or vocational school to get a degree.
Ensuring America has more college graduates is vital to our economic and civic future. A USA Today series highlights the fact that our nation will have a shortage of three million workers with the required postsecondary degrees to fill the jobs of the future. Additionally, individuals with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely to volunteer and contribute to community improvements than are those with less education, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to the Association for Non-traditional Students (ANTSHE), two out of five college students are now 25 years or older and the number of single-parent undergraduates has doubled in the last decade. ANTSHE also reports that single mothers now make up 45 to 60 percent of the adult learner population.
The circumstances and needs of this growing population of students are quite different than traditional conceptions of students. Many adult learners can’t attend school fulltime because of financial and family responsibilities. Unfortunately, their part-time status can make them ineligible for their school’s financial aid.
Many suffer from an information deficit, having only earned a GED. Others may have dropped out of higher education years ago and have poor GPAs that adversely affect their ability to get scholarships today. Many cannot receive a federal grant, such as the Pell, if they earned a degree previously or earned too many credit hours in pursuit of a degree, even if they can no longer find a job in that field and are trying to retrain for new
It’s important for scholarship funders to understand the special circumstances of the adult learner. According to a Sloan Consortium Survey, short-term, for profit and non-credit and online classes are often the easiest and most direct path available. Recognizing the particular challenges adult learners face, we take into consideration the impact that work and life challenges have on their education. Our scholarship funding sometimes pays the rent or childcare so a student can attend school. If necessary, we also pay for individual course hours rather than entire semesters.
In 2009, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County gave 110 scholarships valued at more than $175,000, and we are adding another $80,000 this year.
The journey is not easy for most adult learners and funders should be willing to make the necessary concessions to help them succeed. We must acknowledge the challenges and sacrifices adult learners and their families make. This population may present a greater risk, but it is our responsibility to support their efforts to attain financial stability and productive careers. The reward is a new force of graduates and adults with certificates and degrees prepared for a much brighter future – theirs and ours.
Mimi Goodwill is scholarship manager for the Community Foundation of Sarasota County