The Post-Traditional Learners Manifesto Revisited: Aligning Postsecondary Education with Real Life for Adult Student Success

Report CoverBuilding on ACE’s long history of supporting both post-traditional learners and the higher education institutions that serve them, The Post-traditional Learners Manifesto Revisited explores the distinctive nature of modern undergraduates. Using data from the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study 2011-12, the report digs deeper into the needs of this population of college-goers and offers recommendations to help schools, researchers, and policymakers better help thi​​s growing population of postsecondary students complete their degrees.

The analysis revealed that post-traditional learners—students who are either over the age of 25, working full-time, financially independent, or connected with the military—make up nearly 60 percent of the undergraduate student population. They are a diverse group with a range of education needs, encompassing many life stages and identities, which need to be considered when designing higher education business models tailored to them.

This paper follows on from the Center for Policy Research and Strategy’s previous study, Post-traditional Learners and the Transformation of Postsecondary Education: A Manifesto for College Leaders​.​

The Post-Traditional Learners Manifesto Revisited: Aligning Postsecondary Education with Real Life for Adult Student Success (PDF) 0.6 MB

2017 Online Education Trends Report

2017 Online Education Trends ReportOnline education continues to see a steady increase in student enrollment (Babson, 2015); however, as students are presented with more program choices and formats from a wider variety of institutions, the competition for those students is also increasing.

This second annual Online Education Trends report from seeks to distill existing research about online learners’ characteristics, goals, and preferences, as well as information related to innovation in the design of online programs. More than 300 school administrators and 1,500 students responded to the survey, providing detailed information about their current experiences in on-line education. This new report is designed to help you make the best decisions possible about the online programs you are managing, as well as those you may be planning for the future. Key issues are identified in three categories:

The State of Online Learning

  • Students care about careers: 72% of online students report job and employment goals as a reason for enrolling, including transitioning to a new career field (36%) and earning academic credentials in a current field of work (32%).
  • Cost is the most prominent concern: Students report their biggest challenges in making decisions about online education related to cost estimates, finding funding sources, and navigating the financial aid process.

Developing and Managing Online Programs

  • Online program demand is on the rise: 98% of administrators find that demand for online education has increased or stayed the same over the past few years. However, 60% do not plan to change their budgets for online program development in the next year.
  • Local options matter: 65% of administrators consider “needs of local employers” and/or “general employment/job market trends or forecasts” when designing a new online program.
  • Recruitment is still an obstacle, even with increased demand: Marketing new online programs to prospective students and meeting recruitment goals is seen as the biggest challenge to offering an online program.

Meeting Online Student Needs and Expectations

  • Students want more outcomes data: 77% of schools report that students are asking for “placement/employment” rates in addition to other outcome data, such as completion rates (58%) and post-graduation salaries (48%).


The following insights are offered in conclusion for reaching prospective students and providing them with ongoing support that leads to retention and graduation after enrollment.

Program Marketing

  • Include more career outcome information in your recruiting and marketing materials, such as how often alumni are changing jobs or seeking continuing education.
  • Share details about how your online programs and support services are designed to meet the needs of specific student groups (e.g., military, disabled, transfer students)
  • Connect with relevant professional associations and employment websites to increase visibility of and familiarity with your program curriculum.
  • Make it easy for prospective students to find the information they are most interested in – financial aid and funding options, transfer credit process.
  • Share details about the variety of learning environments you offer, such as blended courses or programs, synchronous requirements, and online or on campus access to services.

Program Development

  • Consider multiple options to online program development, which may include initial work on individual courses or a certificate program as a pilot for full degree offerings.
  • Take a collaborative approach to working with all online program stakeholders to not only increase buy-in, but also encourage insight into enhancing the student experience.
  • Explore the reasons students are choosing your online programs, beyond “anytime, anyplace” access, as a way to differentiate your offerings.

Student-Centered Resources and Activities

  • Provide new ways for prospective students to connect with current students and alumni, through student profiles and live interactions.
  • Provide connections to career-related support activities for your students, whether they are planning to enter their first career field or are working professionals making a transition.
  • Maintain student support after recruitment in the areas they most need, including financial assistance (i.e., tuition and fees, hardware and software, Internet service)

The full report is available for download here.

Reimagining Institutional Models for Online Program Development and Support

Reimagining Institutional Models for Online Program Development and Support

When is it time to reevaluate the models for distance learning administration and support at your institution and how do you successfully implement recommendations for change? During this session at OLC Accelerate 2017, learn from the experience of Northern Illinois University (NIU) reimagining its distance learning support model as a result of a recent institution-wide program prioritization process.

In Fall 2015, NIU began a program prioritization initiative with the goal of building a strong foundation for maintaining and improving the quality of academic and administrative programs across the institution, by assuring that programs reflect the institution’s mission and strategic goals. As a result, an institutional task force recommended reimagining the structure for supporting online and off-campus programs, specifically noting:

While the delivery of online or adult for-credit courses was once seen as an ancillary task, this has changed over time…It is critical that all students receive a consistent NIU experience, whether traditional/on-campus, online, regional, or adult learner. Efficiencies could be created by limiting the duplication of functions. The task force recommends moving online programs to Academic Affairs.

In Fall 2016 a working group of senior leaders at NIU was formed and charged by NIU’s president with developing a plan for a revamped service model for online & off-campus programs. The working group was asked to formulate a model for supporting and growing online and off-campus programs that would identify what activities/services are needed, how those services are provided, and by whom. In response to that charge, the working group examined the literature, considered national best practices, surveyed effective models of peers and aspirational institutions, identified gaps between the current and new systems, and recommend bridging strategies. The working group made their best effort to continue the “trustee mentality” of program prioritization, with a focus upon developing the best options for serving adult learners in terms of both online and off-campus environments.

The working group delivered a comprehensive set of recommendations for action steps that would improve support for NIU online and off-campus students and programs. Key recommendations involved:

  • creating strategic leadership for NIU’s online/off-campus programs in Academic Affairs
  • reconfiguring the core course development, program development, faculty development and logistical support functions, and housing them centrally in Academic Affairs
  • strengthening the services provided to online/off-campus students
  • improving centralized marketing and recruiting efforts for these audiences

With the central responsibility for online/off-campus programs being located within Academic Affairs, NIU’s provost was charged in May 2017 with creating an implementation plan based on the working group’s recommendations.

During this session, experience and lessons learned by NIU were shared for other online education leaders seeking to engage in a comprehensive review of institutional online program development and support models.

Session Resources

Updated Academic Integrity Online Tutorials Available

Online tutorials on academic integrity, previously developed in 2005 and made available in part through the “Project for Improvement of Undergraduate Education” grant by the Northern Illinois University Committee for the Improvement of Undergraduate Education, have been updated and have been re-released at

Academic Integrity Tutorials

The purpose of these tutorials is to promote academic integrity at Northern Illinois University by increasing students’ awareness of the issues, offering strategies for students to protect themselves from academic dishonesty situations, and increasing faculty’s awareness of the issues and offering them strategies to address academic dishonesty incidents effectively. These tutorials are intended for self-paced learning by students and faculty and can be used as an educational resource to supplement classroom discussions on academic integrity. Over the past 12 months, the academic integrity tutorials have been view by more than 10,000 users and average over 1,300 hits each month.

Both a student tutorial and faculty tutorial are available. The tutorials are available to the public and can be accessed without any required login or password.

Faculty can use the tutorial as part of their classroom discussions on academic integrity and encourage students to review the content and complete the activities as part of a course activity. Students who complete the student tutorial successfully can print a certificate of completion which can by submitted as verification of their completion.

Special thanks to the staff of Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center for updating the tutorials and migrating them to NIU’s latest web templates.

Understanding Faculty Use of the Learning Management System

article page 1 previewThe learning management system (LMS) has become a critical tool for nearly all institutions of higher education, and a driving force in online learning. According to a 2014 report by the Educause Center for Analysis and Research, 99% of higher education institutions have an LMS in place, and the LMS is used by 85% of faculty and 83% of students. This was not always the case, however. There was a time in the not-so-distant past when using an LMS was considered highly innovative. Understanding the growth and adoption of the LMS is a stepping stone to understanding how faculty may choose to adopt other technological and pedagogical innovations. This study was conducted at a large, research-intensive public university in the Midwest, which has used the same LMS for 15 years. From a small pilot, adoption has grown to nearly universal use. This study used system logs and database queries to examine how faculty used the LMS. The results identified the features that were used most frequently and how usage had changed over time. In addition, the study compared the usage data for face-to-face and online courses to determine if there are differences in LMS use due to course modality. Based on this, it is possible to better understand the role the LMS plays in higher education and online learning, to inform development of next generation learning systems or other innovative technologies. View article »


Rhode, J., Richter, S., Gowen, P., Miller, T. & Wills, C. (2017). Understanding faculty use of the learning management system. Online Learning, 21(3), 68-86.