Why Lifelong Learning Must Change

Why Lifelong Learning Must Change

Public research universities have faced challenges in the past decade with steady or growing enrollments concurrent with declining state funding and increasing expectations from students, key stakeholders, and the public (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2012).  The Hill’s Forum for Law Makers & Policy Professionals (January 8, 2015) noted that 65% of  jobs will require some level of postsecondary education by 2020, but less than 40% of Americans have a college degree. These critical drivers in the environment and motivators within universities signal for change in the delivery of lifelong learning.

Student demographics are shifting, and along with those shifts come changing student needs and expectations. A November Institute for Women’s Policy Research report (IWPR, #C424) noted that 25% of the students in college in the U.S. (4.8 million) are raising dependent children, and 50% of those are single parents (IWPR, #C424). Such students have called out for responsive financial aid, and alternatives to educational opportunities that are based on seat-time—with the incorporation of technology and online learning providing greater flexibility and access.

With declining state support, universities are searching for sustainable enrollment models (Education Advisory Board [EAB], 2013). Traditional, residential students will continue to be a key student segment; however, the greatest enrollment gains are predicted to come from “community college transfers, international undergraduates, professional master’s students, and adult degree completers” (EAB, 2013, p. 1). Serving these students will require changes and investment in new and different models of student services, retooled policies, innovative technologies, and mutually beneficial partnerships.

It is time for lifelong learning to play a more significant role at UW-Madison.  We can position UW-Madison at the center of the global village, showing what our state and our university have to offer the world.  To do so, we will need new educational offerings that attract new audiences at new junctures in their lives.