This blog post was previously published as part of a body of work that explored Americans’ perceptions of higher education. For more information, please visit www.varyingdegrees.org.
When Michael Paull, the founding dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY)-Lehman College in the Bronx, NY, first had the idea to create a program tailored to adults re-entering college in 1978, he recognized that for older students, returning to school was a daunting task. Using money from the college’s Continuing Education program, Paull founded Lehman College’s adult degree program (ADP) to provide case management and advising services. The reason was simple: Paull recognized that it was one thing to get adults re-enrolled, but another altogether to help them overcome obstacles on their way to graduation.
Now approaching its 40th anniversary, Lehman College’s adult degree program is the oldest program of its kind in the CUNY system. It is also fully integrated into the college itself. The ADP has served over 15,000 students since its founding, including nearly one out of ten students currently enrolled at Lehman.
Lehman College’s adult degree program is even more impressive when considering the demographics of the students who enroll. Although students must be at least 25 years old to qualify for the program, the average student in the ADP is 40. Like most adult students, Lehman’s ADP students balance life, work, and school. Four out of five ADP students work while attending school either full- or part-time, with 61 percent of students in full-time, off-campus jobs. With their students’ needs in mind, Lehman works to accommodate and support students, directing them to classes that work with their schedule. And, Lehman is meeting students where they are by providing flexible course scheduling: slightly over half of all ADP students attend school part-time, and 71 percent of students are enrolled primarily in evening or weekend classes.
Lehman’s adult degree program is also representative of the local community: 73 percent of its students are Hispanic or African American, reflecting the surrounding community. Just over a quarter of students in the adult degree program were referred to the program by word-of-mouth, and another quarter were referred to the program through the main admissions office by way of other programs within the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. “Students who are, for example, in our workforce development program [within the School of Continuing and Professional Studies] are told about ADP [by faculty and staff] and they often filter in,” said Jane MacKillop, the interim dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies.
Student-centric ADP introductory courses are a cornerstone of the program, not only reintroducing students to skills like time management and studying, but also welcoming them into a community of similar students on an otherwise large campus. “What we find is [adult students] take one of [the ADP’s] introductory classes, look around and say ‘people here look like me, they talk like me, I can be comfortable here,’ and then they matriculate into the program,” said MacKillop.The most unique class, Prior Learning Assessment: Portfolio Development, is a 3-credit course where students create a portfolio of their prior work experience, knowledge, and skills. ADP students can earn up to 15 additional Liberal Arts elective credits based on the content of their portfolio. The benefit is two fold: these credits go a long way in the quest to obtain a degree while also helping boost the morale of adult students who might feel as if their experiences don’t measure up to their college level work.
“Because the portfolio is based on who I am and what I’ve achieved, it made me feel like I wasn’t just a student at Lehman, but a member of the [Lehman] community.” said Maria Camaj, a graduate of the adult degree program.
The ADP’s students also benefit from advising that goes beyond suggesting courses to take. ADP staff are very aware that their students are uniquely vulnerable to a number of issues that stem from a higher education system that favors traditionally-aged students, including how to pay for college.
Holistic support that considers the various complexities of being an adult student is the theme that runs through everything Lehman College’s ADP provides.“Adult students do best in a one-stop shop environment. We try to be that one-stop shop,” said Pamela Hinden, director of the program, while reflecting on ADP’s purpose. To Camaj, this commitment towards holistic support and understanding is what makes the ADP so effective. For her, “ADP validates us, and that’s a large part of the success, to know that someone sees your experiences as valid.”