Learning has no limits – especially when it comes to age – and the drive to encourage lifelong learning led Harrisburg University of Science and Technology to start its Adult Degree Program.
The new program, which rolls out this fall, offers working professionals the chance to earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Management and eBusiness with two possible concentrations: business analytics and digital marketing.
“While Harrisburg University has focused on providing STEM-oriented education in a traditional four-year program, venturing into the new market of adult undergraduate degrees is part of the university’s strategic plan to become more involved in cultivating skilled professionals in Pennsylvania and beyond – no matter what stage they might be at in life,” says Dr. Eric Darr, University President.
A different take on adult education
“We knew when we started to look at offering adult undergraduate degrees that we wanted to be different,” said Dawn Spaar, Director of Adult and Professional Studies. “Harrisburg University has always been on the forefront of what’s in demand, and it was important that we do the same with these new programs.”
During the research phase, Spaar, who has nearly two decades of experience in implementing and running adult degree programs, worked with an advisory committee to examine national statistics, trends in adult education and interview local employers to see what skills they would want future hires to possess.
The results pointed to a traditional business administration degree – but with a twist. While this popular degree is the number one choice in higher education for adult learners, Harrisburg University made it a priority to offer an exceptional program.
“We based a lot of our decisions on not just the academic perspective but the competencies, skills and knowledge that an employer wants to see in graduates before they are hired or promoting a current employee,” Spaar said. “These programs are based on blending academics with market needs.”
An adult-friendly approach
Most working professionals need flexibility if they are going to pursue a degree while maintaining full-time jobs, Spaar said.
That’s why the Adult Degree Program has taken a different approach to when courses are offered and how they are taken. Instead of a traditional two-semester academic year, the program features seven week sessions – two in the fall, two in the spring and two in the summer.
Adult students can choose to take one or two courses in a session. If students have a family vacation planned during the summer session or other commitments during a fall session, they have the option to simply skip that session and resume at a more convenient time.
The shorter, more accelerated sessions also mean the traditional components of a college class structure are reformatted to fit the demands of an adult student. Instead of devoting a session to introductions and another to reviewing the syllabus, these accelerated sessions get “right to the point,” Spaar said.
By the time most of the adult learners will enter the virtual classroom, they’ll have already purchased textbooks and possibly read or completed a mini assignment.
Courses also are blended, which means they combine classroom and online learning. Some courses allow adult students to log into an online learning platform when it’s convenient for them – perhaps after a day at the office followed by taking the kids to a soccer game and finally sitting in front of the computer when the house is quiet and the children are in bed. Other courses require logging in at a certain time.
“We’ve seen online learning grow exponentially for adult students,” Spaar said. “We knew integrating that into our program would be a key component.” Adult students really like the flexibility and convenience of online learning formats.
Learning from real-world experience
Harrisburg University is known for its experiential learning, where undergraduate students earn credits by gaining real-world experience. The same principle is applied to the Adult Degree Program but it has been made adult and work friendly, Spaar said.
Four courses offer some form of experiential learning and are taken in succession after a certain number of credits are earned by the adult student.
In the final course, the student has the option to choose an internship or an occupational practicum, which is an expanded opportunity to work with professionals to implement a new product, service or other entity related to the career path.
“That experience – whether it’s gained through an internship or through integrating new ideas at their current place of employment – sets our adult students up for success,” Spaar said. “Learning the skills and principles in class is great, but putting them to use in a real-world applicable setting is even better. We’ve seen huge success with that kind of experience.”
A chance to start again
The Adult Degree Program at Harrisburg University is ideal for those who have as few as 30 college credits or an associate degree. The option to transfer credits from another institution is very flexible, Spaar said.
“We don’t feel students need to retake courses if they gained that knowledge elsewhere,” she said. “We want to do whatever we can to make sure they can proceed with their education – not get stuck because they have to do things over again.”
Those who are interested in learning more about the program also have the option to submit their information through the Adult Degree Program website, which is independent from HU’s traditional website, and set up a time to meet, Skype or talk on the phone with an admissions counselor.
Standardized tests, such as the SATs, also are not required for admission into the program. Instead, current and previous work experience is valued along with previous college credits.
“It’s a huge decision for many adults to say, ‘Yes, I want to go back and finish my degree,’” Spaar said. “Making the necessary steps to get there shouldn’t be so complicated that it holds them back. At Harrisburg University, we want the transition process to be as seamless as possible.”
Just the beginning
Launching the Adult Degree Program this fall is one step in what Spaar sees as a long future in serving the community of adult learners.
She hopes that additional majors, concentrations and certificate programs will be added to offer a diverse range of educational opportunities.
“Harrisburg University has worked hard to be ahead of industry demands,” Spaar said. “These programs make it possible for us to continue that mission and make education accessible for even more people.”