State, national efforts
Part of the increased attention focused on adult learners in Oklahoma may come from a renewed emphasis on degree completion both in Oklahoma and nationwide, Hendrix said. Gov. Mary Fallin has called for an additional 20,400 degrees and certificates awarded in Oklahoma during the next 12 years.
That goal is a part of Complete College America, a nationwide initiative designed to boost the number of degrees awarded at American institutions annually.
Part of that initiative is an Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education program targeted at adult students with some college credit but no degree. The Reach Higher program provides both on-campus and online course options and flexible course schedules to try to accommodate working adults.
The program targets those with 18 or more credit hours toward an associate degree or 72 or more credit hours toward a bachelor's degree.
Norma Kent, a spokeswoman for the American Association of Community Colleges, said the increased focus on adult learners has been a trend nationwide for some time.
Community colleges always have served adult learners, she said, but they generally see greater interest from returning adults during economic declines. During recessions, people who are in industries that are declining often go back to school to pursue a different career. Others go back to learn new skills to make themselves more marketable.
In particular, she said, students are returning for training in health-related fields. Community colleges tend to be more responsive to the immediate demands of local industry, she said, so they're in a better position to respond to shortages of health care workers.
Kent said she doesn't expect the demand for health care training to go away anytime soon. As the population continues to age, she said, community colleges will continue working to keep pace with demand for allied health workers.
“Look at all the baby boomers you've got moving into their years when they need more care,” she said. “I think people see those (jobs) as good security.”