Once upon a time, a person could secure an entry-level position with a company of merit and look forward to hard work and time on-the-job resulting in a variety of rewards. Among these rewards were the expectation of moving up within the company's ranks, an increase in one's job security, and a greater understanding of one's duties-all of which added up to an ever-growing sense of satisfaction and comfort while looking forward to a hard-earned retirement.
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Almost overnight the work-world has shifted and become more complex: today, entry level-jobs require specialized education, training, and experience. No one can sit back comfortably expecting time on-the-job to guarantee anything-even continued employment. This change in the work world has resulted in a new breed of students entering the halls of higher education: adults-and as the college campus population begins to age, new challenges need to be considered and met.
The new breed of student is older than before, and the anxiety this can create is tremendous. Employees faced with losing jobs and/or job opportunities suddenly find themselves having to go back to school after being away for decades, and the pressure to succeed is ominous. Many returning students are intimidated by the college environment: not only have they been away from school for years, but also, they may walk into a setting that is nothing like that which they once experienced. To begin with, they are often older than everyone in the classroom-even the teacher. In addition, they may be shocked by the informality that has settled over academia. Students and teachers call one another by first names and frequently discuss everything from sex to religion to politics in open classroom forums. The pressure to participate in a relevant manner can be overwhelming, and soon, a returning student may find himself struggling to keep up with the day-to-day activities of a course.
The apprehension over returning to school can be exacerbated by the complication of an adult's responsibilities needing to be balanced with schoolwork. The employee who finds herself forced into additional education must somehow balance her full-time job, her familial responsibilities, and her social obligations with attending classes and preparing assignments. Few working adults have the extra time or the extra energy to devote to the rigors of college coursework.
Ideally, employers need to recognize the pressure their employees are under to remain at the forefront in their fields; after all, an experienced worker is a commodity, right? Realistically, few companies can afford to wait for under-educated employees to catch-up: so much of the work-force is technology-based that time-served on a job is not necessarily of greater value than recent education. Certainly, there will be a backlash if companies begin an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new overhaul: things like corporate loyalty, client relationships, and long-term improvements will ultimately suffer, but until then, top-notch talent at a cut-rate salary will likely prevail.
Institutions of higher education would be wise to consider tailoring courses to meet the needs of the emerging adult population. While current academic standards cannot be set aside, accommodations for prerequisite courses, level placement, and integration into classrooms should be analyzed, and reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that returning students have a chance to succeed. The adult student offers two significant advantages: considerable incentive to do well in each class he undertakes, and a perspective that will likely differ from almost everyone else in the classroom.
There are undoubtedly those in the workforce who traded higher education for the prospect of earning a paycheck and building time on-the-job, and many of these workers are now faced with the daunting task of returning to school to retain their positions or to have advancement opportunities. While these employees must face this new reality, their employers must consider the dangers of an all-out renovation of their staff and carefully weigh the pros and cons of education over experience. At the same time, colleges must begin to adjust their environment to accommodate this new breed of student.
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