Step up. Speak up.

Dave King, Associate Provost, Outreach and Engagement
Dave King, Associate Provost, Outreach and Engagement
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Last month, I spoke at the opening session of a corporate meeting in Portland. The group, Inside Track (a national company based in Portland and San Francisco), provides coaching services to higher education students who are returning to college classes online after stepping out for a while. Their question of me: What are the forces shaping higher education today?

Below is an excerpt from my Inside Track presentation. After reading, the questions I put to you:

  • Can you see your clients and stakeholders in this group? They are front and center in your community and every discipline we work in.
  • What role should Extension play in addressing the needs of these people across our state?
  • What helps us improve economic stability in Oregon more than improving the competiveness of people in the workplace and community?
  • When does Extension move our efforts online?

Think about it. Step up. Speak up.


The Lumina Foundation suggests that there are 39 million people in the US with some college but no bachelor’s degree.

Here in Oregon, we’ve run the numbers even deeper to try to understand what our market really looks like.

There are 750,000 people (age 24-64) in Oregon with some college and no bachelor’s degree. (Lumina numbers) From that we have done additional survey work that shows 500k plus with some interest in pursuing a credential. And then 230k or so who indicate they are willing to pursue that bachelor’s degree wholly online. There’s the market segment we’re competing for.

These folks are in addition to the 85% post traditional learners that are in some way still currently engaged in education. Yet their needs and expectations are similar in many ways—in fact I would say in many ways these are the same people—people who call themselves learners as much as students. As Louis Soares (Center for American Progress) points out, there is a huge difference between those who considers themselves students who are working as opposed those who characterize themselves as workers who are continuing to learn. "Finishing" college to many of in the 85% is not something defined in the six-year graduation rates demanded by assessments like the US News survey of higher education. US news obviously doesn’t get it yet.

If you "unpack" the 85%, as Soares does, you see the diversity and complexity we need to address in this post-traditional learner audience.

This group includes:

  • Adult learners
  • Employees who study
  • Low income students
  • Commuters
  • Student parents

Pretty diverse.

  • 38% of enrolled students are over 25 years old
  • 25% are over 30 years old
  • 25% of post-secondary students are parents
  • 40% of all undergraduates are enrolled part-time
  • 33% work full time
  • 44% work part time

Why are these people so motivated to continue learning when life throws multiple obstacles in their path?

The numbers are pretty clear. If you have a bachelor’s degree as opposed to a high school degree, you will make on average $1.3 million dollars more over your working life. (Latest Census Bureau numbers)

So, how does a truly 21st century public university adapt and reach this post-traditional 85% as well as the 39 million with some college and no degree?

Many of us are focusing on online access…and looking to disrupt our educational enterprise from within. Online learning has the disruptive potential to expand student-centric and adaptive online learning environments. That’s our goal.


Dave King
Associate Provost
Outreach and Engagement