While the kids head back to school this fall, it’s time for many adults to hit the books, too. Adult students, or nontraditional students as they are known on college campuses, are sharpening their workforce skills.
While the Pennsylvania Department of Education does not track nontraditional students, the National Center for Education Statistics does monitor those numbers. The numbers have increased steadily since the mid-1970s thanks to a changing workforce and more access to student loans.
“We have seen a rise in nontraditional students coming to campus to learn,” said Paul Starkey, vice president for academic affairs at Penn College of Technology. “Particularly, a lot of the students have some sort of affiliation with the military. That’s been one of our more popular growth areas.”
Starkey said nontraditional students often look at a program that fits into their schedule. Online classes are very popular, he said, adding that many are looking to add credits or training beyond an associate degree or credential.
“The dental hygienist or nurse programs are very popular,” he said. “They are looking to get that baccalaureate degree to enhance that degree and the online programs fit their schedule because they can continue to work full time.”
He said other programs involve in-class time such as applied technology studies, which allow students to take into account their prior learning and use that for a degree in information technology, engineering or automated manufacturing and machining.
Another popular program is brewing and fermentation science, which complements the craft brewery business.
“There are a number of programs that have certificate options,” he said. “They take many of the same courses, but they don’t have to take the general education requirements,” which include electrical occupations and a residential construction certificate. He said, while some students opt for a certificate, many see the value of an associate degree because it could mean more opportunity and career advancement in the future.
Nine percent of Pennsylvania adults are without a high school credential, according to the federal Department of Education.
“There are jobs out there and there are life-sustaining jobs,” said Mike Novak, chief administrative officer, Johnson College of Technology.
Novak said they prepare students for what manufacturing has become and technical jobs in the automotive industry — from trucking to car dealerships.
“Our construction trades are also very popular for those students, too,” he said. “We have a lot of students who are learning about construction maintenance, drafting, heating and ventilation and air conditioning. Those are areas where students can learn skills that can help them in the job market.”
He said the jobs that we used to think of as simple, have become very complex and require more education.
“Things have changed over time,” he said. “The technical trades are not what they used to be. There’s a lot of technology that is wrapped into it. What we used to think were dirty jobs are now actually clean jobs. And those jobs are now highly skilled and pay good money.”