On Non-Traditional Students & Higher Ed

This an interesting article about how colleges and universities are increasing access to “non-traditional” students but are not in essence changing their internal support structures to help college students graduate. It got me thinking about colleges in general and how they’ve changed (or not changed) to meet the needs of broader society. The article highlights the term “non-traditional student” which has really become the new normal: non-traditional is traditional. Most college students, especially Hispanic college students, begin their college careers carrying other responsibilities: work, family, homes, etc. Yet, what the article aptly points out is that some colleges and universities still work under the same bureaucratic paradigm:

In other words, yesterday’s “non-traditional student” is today’s traditional student. However, with only a few exceptions, higher education looks and feels exactly as it did 100 years ago.

One of the most important challenges facing organizations today is developing the capacity to change themselves. This includes breaking down the processes and structures that inhibit the process of transformation to occur. In a higher education setting, transformation begins by questioning bureaucratic frameworks and appreciating the growing importance of engaging the external environment. A more diverse and knowledge-based economy requires colleges and universities to be driven by the needs of the societies they serve. In short, the question is not if higher education will change, but rather how it should change.

Traditional colleges and universities have dominated the conferment of advanced education degrees; however, changing market (student) demands and technological advances have impacted this long held fact. Technology has expanded the reach of higher education and eliminated the physical barriers that impeded multitudes of students. Competition from private and for-profit institutions has emerged to serve these once overlooked student constituencies. These and other factors are driving higher education to reexamine their classical management structures and adapt to their changing external environment – especially their “new” traditional student.