Magazine article Techniques

Serving Adult and Returning Students: One College's Experience

Magazine article Techniques

Serving Adult and Returning Students: One College's Experience

Article excerpt

In 2009, Community College Week named Northeast Alabama Community College (NACC) one of the fastest growing community colleges in America. In the early 2000s, the college, which is located in the rural Appalachian region of Alabama, had begun efforts to increase enrollment. These efforts included providing online registration, online courses, an

expanded class schedule, a student loan program, dual enrollment courses at area high schools, intensified student recruiting, focused marketing and promotions, and community events on campus to bring area residents to the college. As a result, the college saw a jump in credit headcount enrollment from 1,659 the fall semester of 2000-2001 to 2,247 the fall semester of 2005-2006.

Although there were a few workforce training programs offered, such as registered nursing, drafting and design, emergency medical services, and industrial electronics, the college had historically focused on academic transfer. In an effort to become a truly comprehensive community college, additional career and technical education (CTE) programs were added to the curriculum to meet future workforce needs. To accomplish this, college officials sought guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor on what were anticipated to be high-growth jobs of the future. Additionally, officials were advised by local industry and business leaders as to what their employment needs were and would be in the future; advisory boards were established to provide frontline input. As a result, numerous career programs were added to the college, including practical nursing, medical assisting, industrial systems technology, welding technology, machine tool technology, cosmetology, criminal justice, and child development.

Noncredit certificate training programs in the college's Skills Training Division were also added, particularly in health fields. On-campus partnership programs were established with Wallace State Community College at Hanceville in the areas of physical therapy assistant and respiratory therapy. An adult education program, leading to the GED, also became a part of the college. With the addition of these new programs, NACC became a truly comprehensive community college with a far-reaching and varied mission.

The Boom Began

By 2005, enrollment was increasing significantly. This upward pattern was accelerated with the downturn that occurred in the U.S. economy beginning locally in 2007 and 2008; the area that the college serves was hit especially hard. This area includes Jackson County, the northern half of DeKalb County, and a small part of Cherokee County. The textile industry had served much of this area, particularly DeKalb County, whose county seal had been dubbed the "sock capitol of the world." Changes within the textile industry led to plant closings and layoffs--the unemployment rates shot up to 15 percent in DeKalb County and 13 percent in Jackson County. In DeKalb County, the number of those directly employed in the hosiery industry decreased from 8,000 in 2001 to some 1,200 today. Fortunately, NACC was prepared to help serve those who lost their jobs by providing them with new training opportunities and vital student services.

Those enrolling at the college due to the economic downturn added to the college's already surging numbers, and many of these new students were adult learners. The number of students 40 years of age and older increased from 233 in 2005 to 479 in 2009, a 106 percent increase in this age group and an increase from 10 percent to 14 percent of the total college enrollment. New challenges in educating larger numbers of adult learners had now arisen.

From their experiences, NACC officials note that preparing to serve these students is not accomplished with a single step, but rather a series of steps that work together. From the organizational structure of the college to the services provided to its students, NACC has prepared to serve this important group of students. …

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