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Reaching out to the adult learner

A banner hangs in the commuter lounge in the commons boasting that 14 percent of UMBC’s students are “adult learners,” students over the age of 25 obtaining their bachelor’s degree. Often facing different struggles than their younger classmates, adult learners are not always connected to campus.

In a push to better connect with older students, UMBC hosted its first adult learner week. The events ranged from social events to a small technology class.

The happy hour at Flat Tuesdays kicked off the week as a relaxing way for adult learners to get to know each other. Sandwiches, pasta salad and brownies were free offered along with the free popcorn always available. Off-Campus Student Services gave free UMBC shirts to attendants with “AL” printed on the back so students could show their adult learner pride.

About twenty people came to the happy hour, making the small bar feel packed. Some students discussed their favorite childhood television shows such as Doug and Full House. One student proudly passed around her phone to show pictures of her granddaughter.

Bringing this diverse group of people together seems to be part of a new focus for the college. This year OCSS created a new position of an adult liaison to the adult learners on campus which was filled by Joe Winters, an adult learner who is majoring in environmental science and geography and will graduate in spring 2018.

Winters has only been in his position for a few weeks and has already helped organize events, including adult learner week. He is also helping to plan new events and build an online presence to help adult learners connect to each other.

It was difficult for Winters to pinpoint the challenges adult learners face because they encompass such a diverse group of people; the group includes people with or without children, people changing careers or beginning new ones.

“It’s hard to wave a magic wand that will kind of fix everything but we’re kind of learning that, we’re trying to figure out what works,” Winters said.

One struggle that seems to be universal is the issue of time. A husband and a father of two children, Winters himself understands how difficult it is to balance home life and his studies while still being involved on campus.

“I have to figure out when I can be home so I can take [the kids] to swim practice. I have to figure out meals for the week for not just me but for them,” he said.

The schedule for adult learner week reflected the challenge of finding time to get involved. There was a mix of evening events like the happy hour, and morning events like free breakfast.

Going forward, OCSS is looking to place some of their focus on outreach like adult learner week. There is a breadth of resources for students to access on campus that can be underutilized. 

“There is kind of an emphasis on targeting adult learners, so we’re creating a network where those resources can be found,” Winters said.