“Adults over the age of 25 represent roughly 40 percent of enrollment in U.S. higher education. That’s nearly 8 million learners,” (Gallagher, It’s time to reboot our thinking about adult learners in a digitally transformed world – EdSurge news 2021).
When the pandemic hit in 2020, enrollment dropped sharply due to economic hardship, changing roles at home, and lack of equitable access. The world was changing, and higher education pivoted to keep up. Avila made this pivot 25 years ago. Over that time, it continually adapts to the needs of its students and the demands of the global tech society.
In the spring of 1997, Avila Advantage was born, partnering with local Kansas City companies to bring evening and weekend courses directly to their adult learners. These companies included the Ford assembly plant, Truman Hospital, AT&T, and Farmland Industries. A decade later, Avila Advantage brought students to campus.
Avila Advantage started with degrees in business, psychology, and healthcare services. The program has continued to grow and adapt in the last decade. The most recent changes have been part of moves made by Associate Professor and Dean of the College of Professional Schools Andy Jett, Ed.D. “Andy understands adult programs. Since he arrived, our numbers have trended up. Andy has a strategy. He’s smart, and he’s moving the program forward,” said Steve Iliff, associate professor and former dean for Avila Advantage.
“Since arriving, we have worked hard to focus on two primary areas – building out a prior learning process to allow adult students to bring previous learning experiences into their degree plan via a standardized process around the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) best practices. This work is intended to reduce the number of credits students need to take to achieve the 120 credits required to earn a bachelor’s degree and take advantage of lived experiences,” said Jett.
“Degrees are still the gold standard in hiring and are by far the largest and most in-demand segment of the adult learning market. There is a giant opportunity to augment, improve and adapt existing degrees for working professionals, and to do so in ways that leverage data and online connectivity between institutions and industry” (Gallagher).
“Unbundling, improving, and refashioning existing degree programs is a key first step toward a more modular, work-integrated future.”
“The second area we have focused on is pushing the Institute for Professional Studies (formally Avila Advantage) to fully asynchronous mode. Students do not have to be in class on a particular night but rather can engage with faculty and classmates via best practices in asynchronous online delivery. For adult students with work and family, this is a great advantage and leans into the University’s role in bringing better access to education to those who may not have been able to do so under a synchronous model (Zoom meetings or face-to-face)” said Jett.
“We are moving with the times to provide quality education to adult students who prefer the convenience of an online program,”— Adult Student Success Advisor Danielle Weaver.
Avila commits to concierge advising and student relations. “Avila does whatever we need to do to fulfill your needs. It’s labor-intensive advising, recruiting, and student care. That’s what is different about us,” said Iliff.
“I had a student tell me ‘that the level of one-on-one service that I provided was her deciding factor to choose Avila over returning to her current school, where she felt like a number added to their roster. We try to meet students’ needs in and out of the classroom,” said Weaver.
“I believe the differentiator for Avila online programs is the dedication of single points of contact for our students and a full-service approach to enrollment processes. As busy working adults, our students need to know who can help them. Our advisors in the Institute build out proactive communication plans to keep students informed and motivated as each 8-week session begins and ends. The advisors work with every student on a degree plan, confirm each term that the student is progressing, and get the student’s permission to enroll them in courses on their behalf. This takes the busy work out of the student’s hands and allows them to focus on learning,” said Jett.
Avila’s Institute for Professional Studies understands that life is messy and complicated and promises to meet you where you are so you can finish your degree.“We have great students and faculty. We help each other grow and have each other’s backs. I think that’s Avila in general. (Former Provost) Sr. Marie Joan Harris preached that. Many of the faculty were hired by her. There’s a service mindset–a Dear Neighbor mindset,” said Iliff.
It’s a mindset that has served adult students and Avila well for 25 years.