Some observations from The Future of Adult Education by Fred Harvey Harrington

by Fred Harvey Harrington (Jossey-Bass, 1977)

Our colleges and universities can never again be described as exclusively the province of the young.

Older men and women already outnumber what the Census Bureau chooses to call “college-age” students (the eighteen- to twenty-two-year-olds).

The experts say that the adult education revolution – if that is what it should be called – is barely under way.

Adult education has a wide range.  It includes both further education for advanced professionals and activity below college level.

Much of adult education is elitist, but some of it is designed especially for the disadvantaged.

Adult education has been praised as a wave of the future and denounced as a threat to standards.

Adult education refers to those who have completed or interrupted their schooling and are entering a college or university or are coming into contact with a higher education program after an interval away from the classroom.

Working with adults is a genuine part of the tradition and mission of American higher education.

There are signs that the day of the adult is coming to higher education in the United States, if it is not already here.

Part-time credit, mainly an adult phenomenon, has increased more rapidly than full-time credit, and now exceeds full-time registration in many institutions.  When non-credit programs are added, this means that adults now outnumber younger students, and are the new majority in higher education.

Research indicates that the experience, maturity, and motivation of older women and men balance whatever damage age may have done to their learning ability.

Serving adults will help American colleges and universities regain some of the public esteem lost during the years of student activism.

Adult learners are at the center of today’s most interesting innovations in higher education – credit for learning through life experience, credit by examination, drop-in and drop-out arrangements, special degrees for adults, weekend classes, all sorts of nontraditional experiments.

There is new enthusiasm for off-campus or what is now called distance education.

A flood of books and reports celebrates the external degree as the great hope for the future.

Private foundations, individual donors, and the government are pouring money into projects testing new approaches to adult learning, such as the University Without Walls and American modifications of the British Open University.

Recognition that information and traditional methods become outdated overnight in our technological society has produced an amazing increase in continuing education for professionals.

Although older students prefer practical fare because they have to make a living, there has also been an increase in liberal education for adults.

Having long helped rural citizens with their problems, American higher education has lately been urged to do the same for adults in cities…The commitment today is substantial, greater than is commonly realized; it links higher education to many movements for social change.

Professors who are attacking problems of energy, environment, poverty, pollution, prejudice, and population control have come to understand that research and campus teaching are not enough. To make an impact, they must also convince all sorts of opinion and policy makers.  That is, they must become adult educators.

While still pursuing excellence, higher education is showing renewed interest in creating opportunity and a second chance (an adult chance) for the disadvantaged.

The rise of movements for the disadvantaged has resulted in improved educational chances for adults who have been passed by in the standard school-through-college parade, including, among others, low-income citizens, prisoners, the physically handicapped, women, the elderly, and Americans in remote localities.

Many adults who are not disadvantaged want a mid-career change in occupation.  Most commonly, this means a move into one of the helping professions, like social work or teaching.  Retraining to make these shifts possible is increasingly available in universities and colleges.

State surveys of the needs of Americans beyond college age are improving, and the American Council on Education, the College Entrance Examination Board, the Educational Testing Service, and other national organizations have undertaken needed investigations into certain adult education problems (educational, financial, counseling needs of adults, status of external examinations, and “Continuing Education Unit” [CEU] measurement of noncredit work).

Americans have participated actively in what is becoming a major world movement to promote lifelong learning.  In the process we have learned as well as taught a good deal about the relationship of adult education to national development and social reform – and perhaps to international understanding, too.

Despite the gains, adult education is not yet recognized as a full partner in most colleges and universities.

Past attempts to establish the education of adults as part of the fundamental responsibility of colleges and universities have more often than not failed.