Meeting Students Where They Are: Tailoring Support for Adult Nontraditional Learners

Chloe McNeill, VP of Student Success

by Chloe McNeill

Online education and distance learning are not new concepts. The evolution of education has been significant, from correspondence courses in the 1960s to fully online courses in the 1990s. Technology advances and the internet’s widespread adoption have made online education a popular modality for over 30 years. 

Flexibility for Nontraditional Students

Online degree offerings bring much-needed flexibility to adult nontraditional learners. Many of these students have full-time jobs, support their families, and balance school with a host of additional responsibilities. Asynchronous coursework is sandwiched between helping children with homework and bedtime routines. Flexible degree programs have allowed institutions to meet these students where they are, making a degree attainable. 

The Challenge of Traditional Student Support

While the delivery of online education has changed and expanded, little has changed in the way that we support students. Reflecting on my days as an on-campus advisor nearly 15 years ago, I remember holding office hours, consulting on course schedules and elective choices, signing individual registration appeals, and keeping track of it all through hard copy paperwork and intricate Microsoft Excel workbooks. Communicating through office drop-ins, email exchanges, and periodic phone calls doesn’t serve the nontraditional student.  

Yet, many colleagues in academic departments and advising offices still rely on these outdated tools. Navigating campus policies, processes, and support services can prove challenging, even for students who can walk across campus and into their advisor’s office. 

Rethinking Student Success Plans and Interventions

Comprehensive student success activities need to shift to meet students where they are. Online students quickly find themselves unable to navigate their academic challenges without appropriate guidance. It’s impossible to utilize the assistance of a writing coach or tutoring services if you don’t know that your institution has a Writing Center and Tutoring Office. Managing next semester’s registration deadlines with this semester’s course assignments, along with a work travel schedule and children’s extracurriculars, creates avoidable obstacles and barriers to enrollment. 

We have to rethink student success plans and interventions. Nontraditional students need a nontraditional approach to student support services. There is a need for academic advising, guiding students on the curriculum, navigating academic success, and career guidance. Additionally, there is a need for broader student success interventions, including comprehensive onboarding and orientation, at-risk monitoring, strategic outreach campaigns, and a supported registration process. 

Elsmere Education’s Comprehensive Success Plans

Elsmere Education’s comprehensive success plans utilize multiple engagement tools to meet students where they are, including:

  • text
  • phone calls
  • video conferences
  • email
  • calendar scheduling tools

Student engagements are captured within our online student platform which is anchored in EPaaS, our curated technology ecosystem. The platform allows tracking of interactions, outcomes, schedules, and the ability to set future follow-up tasks. 

Student success doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It requires coordination and collaboration across Elsmere and offices like academic departments, advising offices, registrar, and student financial offices. Student Success Coaches operate as a primary point of contact for online students from the time of acceptance through graduation, building trust and relationships along the way. Well-versed in university and program policies, they can address many of the first-line questions, reducing the need for escalations to offices across campus. Allowing advisors to focus on academics, Elsmere Education offers comprehensive student services that online students need to be successful. 

Building a System Designed for Nontraditional Students

We have been expecting nontraditional online students to adapt and navigate a system that wasn’t designed for them. As institutions build scalable systems and services for online students and move towards holistic advising, Elsmere Education provides a much-needed service, keeping online students engaged and on track for graduation. 

If you are ready to meet students where they are, Elsmere is here to help! Contact us today to improve your adult nontraditional student outcomes. 

About Chloe

Chloé McNeill, VP of Student Success at Elsmere Education, leads the Student Success organization, supporting students from enrollment through graduation. With over 15 years in higher education, Chloé, a first-generation college graduate, holds a Masters in Management and Organizational Behavior. Passionate about online education and its potential to reach underserved populations, she enjoys live music, travel, and exploring Colorado with her husband and dog. 

Read more about Chloe McNeill here.


Recommended posts