Mature students embrace learning

 Continuing education is a hot
ticket these days.

Dean of Instruction at the
International College of the Cayman Islands Scott Cummings said more mature
adults than ever are enrolling at its Hirst Road campus. This trend matches the
year-on-year increase seen at the University College of the Cayman Islands,
which has seen a rise in the number of adult learners, said Student Services
Coordinator Mitch Ebanks.

“From what I am told it seems there
are more adult learners enrolling in our degree programmes… especially for
evening classes because many of them work full-time,” he said.

The UCCI coordinator said that
despite the challenges of returning to study many mature students accessed
further education because their workplaces required staff to upgrade their
skills, they wanted a career change or they wanted to upgrade their degrees.

Mr. Cummings said the majority of
ICCI’s student population, more than 75 per cent of them, are more than five
years out of high school.

“Among the factors that are
influencing people to return to education want to gain extra qualifications to
help with promotions, career changes, increased pay and even to retain employment
in these tough economic times,” Mr. Cummings added. 

Both men speculated that adult
learners were generally more focussed than younger students and had to work
hard to prioritise to find a workable balance between family life, work and
gaining a degree.

Mr. Ebanks said the key to
successful study in older people is their intrinsic motivation to do well. “Obviously
they have to follow up with assignments and making classes and choose the right
major for the right reasons,” he said.

“One of our mantras… is lifelong
learning and we see that coming to life here,” he added.

Adult learners are the target
market for ICCI, which is an exclusively night-time institution with a student
body of about 220.

Mr. Cummings said, “Seventy per
cent of our students are females… with one or two children and work full-time
while attending school. I call them super students. They are so inspiring when
you see what they are doing to help themselves and their families,” he added.

In many of the private college’s
programmes the student/lecturer ratio is 12:1 with a limit of 25 students per
class. ICCI’s dean said that the small class sizes not only made the college
environment less overwhelming for those who had been out of formal education
for over a decade – but allowed for a more individualised learning environment.

Why being an adult student is popular

Mr. Ebanks and Mr. Cummings agreed
that adult students are generally more mature than younger students when it
comes to their studies and what they want to achieve.

“They bring a motivation and
commitment and often find it easier to multi-task,” said Mr. Cummings. “They
are not here under duress because of parental pressure or because they’re not
ready to face the real world; they want a degree to get a pay rise, gain promotion
or even to hold onto a job in these harsh economic times”.

At ICCI, where a quarter of the
students are younger than 21, adult learners are seen as an asset. “Most are
perfect students; having them in a class helps younger students who may feel
peer pressure because the cool thing to do as older students is to study,” he
said.

“It raises the younger students’
game in terms of participating in class discussions and adopting a disciplined
view to studying.”

Catering to adult learners

With the majority of adult learners
in full or part-time work, both institutions have embraced technology, which
attracts and helps retain mature students.

“At UCCI access to resources is
always a big priority,” Mr. Ebanks said. “We have a UCCI Facebook presence so
that we can send out messages and we have an online student information system
so that students can remotely view classes, see posts from lecturers and access
assignments at their convenience,” Mr. Ebanks said.

ICCI’s campus is equipped with
wireless Internet access throughout its buildings.

“We’ve a modern computer lab with
the latest software… a library computer room and, thanks to Hurricane Ivan,
an online library with 300,000 volumes and about 10,000 periodicals… it’s a
phenomenal tool,” said Mr. Cummings.

Such flexibility allows students to
access the college’s services and resources round the clock.

The college also has a website,
myicci.com, which enables students to engage in real-time chats, document
sharing, calendar sharing, email capability and a host of other study-related
functions with fellow students and lecturers.

“You have to remember that many of
these students have kids, family and have to make sacrifices to come here. They
often have to pay for baby sitters, work all day, have reading and assignments
to keep up with and take additional time out of already hectic schedules to get
good grades.. so they need to be more focused. We have a comprehensive online capability
all students can access that can help with that,” said Mr. Ebanks.

UCCI has spent a lot of time
gearing their programmes to the needs of all their students, some of whom
struggle with technology.

“All of our students have to take a
computer application class and have to demonstrate an understanding once
they’ve finished the class of Outlook, Excel and Word and Powerpoint,” said the
student services coordinator.

“We want to remove
all those barriers to accessing further education, so we also offer orientation
and personal counselling… We’ve a math lab set up every day so students can
get a concept worked out and an English lab… If they want to change jobs we
help them with cv writing and sitting for interviews,” Mr. Ebanks said

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