Recent data released by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation indicate that adult learners―students who are 22 years of age or older in this case―make up 47 percent of the students currently enrolled in higher education. But what do we know about these students, how they perceive their educational experiences, and what they think are priorities for improvement?
The recently released 2015-16 National Adult Learners Satisfaction-Priorities Report provides an overview of the areas adult learners believe are important and their corresponding satisfaction levels with each area. The data are from 32,000 adult learners who completed the Adult Learner Inventory™ at 100 four-year and two-year institutions across the country between the fall of 2012 and the spring of 2015.
In general, adult learners show high levels of satisfaction, with 71 percent of adult learners at four-year institutions and 72 percent at community colleges indicating they are satisfied or very satisfied overall. Their likelihood to recommend their institution is even higher: 75 percent at four-year institutions and 78 percent at two-year institutions. While these figures are generally positive, they may not tell the whole story. There are still areas where higher education can be better serving adult learners in order to improve retention and help these students reach their educational goals.
How adult learners view Life and Career Planning Issues
The new national report identifies a variety of areas where institutions have room for improvement as well as areas where institutions are currently doing well. Let’s take a closer look at the Life and Career Planning cluster of items. This group of survey items assesses how well an institution addresses adult learners’ life and career goals at the onset of enrollment. The data from this cluster help an institution assess and align its capacities to help learners reach their goals.
The items in the Life and Career Planning cluster, shown below, have the largest performance gaps (the difference between the importance and satisfaction scores) for both four-year and two-year institutions, and the most room for improvement based on perceptions of adult learners:
Items of high importance and high satisfaction are considered strengths and are identified in green; items of high importance and low satisfaction or large performance gaps are highlighted in red and are considered challenges.