Isabelle Frank, Ph.D., knows that they are out there.
“They” are nontraditional students, those who may have completed only a year or two of college, or who may have postponed higher education on account of a good job or family obligations.
Frank, dean of Fordham College of Liberal Studies (FCLS), is on a mission to reshape the adult students’ college through new programming, pointed outreach and, perhaps, a new name that more accurately reflects its focus on continuing education.
Demographic trends, she said, make it the right time for such changes.
“On one hand, more and more students are choosing not to be traditional,” said Frank, who assumed her role as dean last September. “On the other hand, the number of traditional students—18-year-olds—has peaked and will now move downward.”
With universities facing more competition for traditional-age students, it stands to reason that non-traditional students’ market share will climb over the next decade.
To appeal to that nontraditional student—someone a little older, someone more likely to be working, and who will probably have earned some credits—Frank is concentrating on a few key curricular innovations for FCLS.
She is focused on developing an on-site bachelor of arts degree in business for Fordham Westchester.
“Business is one of the largest areas of attraction for adult students,” said Frank, who has been working with colleagues in the two business schools at Fordham to develop a program suitable for accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. “Adults are more attracted to professionally directed programs that can give them a clear outcome, like an undergraduate business major would do.”
Frank’s second project, also in development, is to go online with a major currently offered on site: organizational leadership. The major is attractive to adults interested in honing skills needed to run a successful organization. The degree, said Frank, works naturally with adults who are already employed at a company and can’t attend classes, but who want to earn a degree that will advance their careers. The major will be Fordham’s first all-online undergraduate degree and is being developed with the help of the Jesuit Distance Education Network (JesuitNet).
Working with JesuitNet specialists, Frank said, provides faculty with “real training and support” in developing media-rich elements for their online courses, such as embedded video clips, self-paced tests, online links and e-tests.
After the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education (GRE), FCLS is Fordham’s smallest school, with some 800 students focusing on more than 30 majors. Approximately 700, said Frank, are degree-seekers, while the remainder may just be interested in taking a course without matriculating. For them, she has helped to streamline the FCLS enrollment process.
Frank is focusing on expanding the undergraduate degree program while making it more supportive of adult students. On average, students enter the school with about 60 earned credits and FCLS can accept up to 75, depending on grade and curricular standards. In addition, FCLS recognizes experiential knowledge gained on the ground. To those ends, FCLS students have an option to qualify for credits through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and something called the “Credit for Life Experience,” where students submit a portfolio documenting their background for which they can receive college credits.
“It’s important to take into consideration that these students are a different population, coming in with different strengths,” said Frank. “But we don’t want students who just failed from a traditional college and see us as a backup. Our program would not be a good place for them.”
Two more majors are on the horizon, said Frank: a cross-school undergraduate degree in public media and media management is in the task-force stage; and an undergraduate degree in public health is being discussed.
“We will be taking the school to a different level,” said Frank, “and with the economy, adult education is a population and market that we’ll want to be part of.”