Indiana State’s Adult and Career Education program helps adults who have some college credit complete their degrees — with some even getting class credit for their life experiences.
Earning a bachelor’s degree is an achievement Steve McCaskey had long set his sights on when life had different plans.
But the 25-year journey from his first college class to graduation day is something he hopes inspires students, as he serves as director of Indiana State University’s Adult and Career Education program that launched in 2010 to help more people earn bachelor’s degrees.
“The first thing I tell (students) is that I came back to campus after 20 years in the U.S. Navy to get my bachelor’s degree,” McCaskey said. “I know, personally, that there is a need for this program, and it’s neat for me to be able to work with adults who are going back to school.”
The Adult and Career Education program is an online initiative designed to help working adults — or those seeking employment — who have earned approximately 60 or more college credit hours toward an undergraduate degree. Although the program is operated through the College of Technology, it is open to all students.
In the last four years, more than 60 students have graduated, and university officials expected as many as 30 additional graduates last year to receive a Bachelor of Science degree through the accelerated program, which focuses on online courses and provides the possibility of credit for college-level learning gained outside the classroom.
Students have the flexibility to design an individualized course of study within the program where the coursework builds on high demand, 21st century workplace skills — creative problem solving, critical thinking, team building, communication technology and work-life integration.
McCaskey’s understanding of adult learners makes the program beneficial for students, said Candice Milam, ’13, a current instructor in the ACE program.
“He understands what an adult learner is and that adults have lives outside of school, and he pushed me to continue my education beyond the program and get my master’s degree,” Milam said. “He’s really a wealth of knowledge for students who go through the program.”
Wanting to provide that same guidance to students he received as a student of the program, Jon Musgrave became an instructor in the program.
Musgrave, who completed his bachelor’s degree in adult and career education in 2012 and earned a master’s degree in 2014, wrapped up his first year of teaching the program’s dimensions of leadership course last fall. While teaching, he also began work on his Ph.D. in human resource development through the University of Texas at Tyler.
“The ACE program curriculum prepared me well for my Ph.D. coursework, and I have used what I learned, frequently,” said Musgrave. “The opportunity to teach was a way for me to give back to a program that has changed my life.”
“It’s not really an age-based course, so having students of varying ages allows for different perspectives,” he said. “Whether they’re older with life experience or just starting out, I see the light bulb come on for my students as they do their assessments.”
Balancing the coursework with life outside of school can provide unique challenges for adult learns, so Milam reminds students to prioritize.
“I’ve been down that road and understand that things come up, so I tell students to let me know what’s happening,” said Milam, who went on to earn her master’s degree at Indiana State this year. “I started out as a medical assistant for 15 years and decided I wanted to teach medical assisting. I wanted to teach at the community college level, in the career field of the college. The ACE program was a great fit for what I wanted to do. It allows you to focus on adult learning and the need to educate them in different ways.”
Last year, the Adult and Career Education program received the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education’s Malcolm Knowles Award for outstanding adult education program.
The award recognizes programs that stress a relaxed, trusting, mutually respectful and collaborative learning climate, involves the student in planning their educational pathway to include experiential learning, inquiry projects and independent study and involves evaluation by student-collected evidence validated by peers and experts in their field.
Initiated in 2004, the Malcolm Knowles Award honors Knowles’ contribution to the theory and practice of adult education. Knowles built a comprehensive education program for adults at the central YMCA in Chicago, where he worked from 1946 to 1951, and later served as founding executive secretary of the Adult Education Association of the United States. In the 1960s, he launched a new line of research with the premise that older adult students learn differently than children or the typical 18- to 20-year-old college students.
“It’s nice to be recognized for being a good program and doing the right things for adults,” McCaskey said.
The program is geared toward adults with a variety of needs — some who need a bachelor’s degree to get or keep employment and others who want it to help them get a promotion — but what they’re all looking for is a program that fits their lives.
“Before I got the program up and running, I started looking into what adults want in a degree completion program and research showed they want four different things: an online program, accelerated eight-week courses, skills employers are looking for and credit for verifiable competencies they gained through work and life experiences. So I created a portfolio process where they can demonstrate that their competencies are equivalent to a college class,” McCaskey said.
The 42-hour program includes 24 credit hours of core courses and 18 credit hours in an area of specialization. McCaskey also recommends that students create an area of specialization within the 18-hour track, or complete a certificate or a minor so that they have an additional credential on their transcript.
Adults have different needs than traditional, right-out-of-high-school students, and Kara Harris, associate dean of student success in the College of Technology, said the Adult and Career Education program “meet students where they are.”
“We see a lot of students who want to come back and finish their degree after leaving the university for one reason or another, and this gives them a wonderful option, not only to complete their degree, but to also to gain some learning that will help them long-term,” Harris said. “Steve has built the program from the ground up, and assistance from the university’s Extended Learning has really helped make it a program that will work for the adult learner, who is looking for flexibility so they can take it in the direction that will best help them.”
McCaskey plans to conduct focus groups with the program’s current students and graduates of the program to see how to continue to better the program for students.
“I have a lot of students who contact me in the beginning looking for advice, and I tell them to keep in contact with me,” he said. “I’ve been there, been in their shoes and I think it really helps put the students at ease because they know that I understand how life can get in the way sometimes.”