Monday, July 10, 2017

The 2017 International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Conference

When Dr. Jaimie Hoffman was giving the first keynote speech for the 2017 International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Conference, a sense of camaraderie came over me. As she spoke about the importance of making higher education accessible, she reminded us that so-called non-traditional students were the new majority of students worldwide. Then she advanced her presentation to a slide that included the characteristics of this new majority. The first characteristic listed was adult students.

In that moment, I felt proud to represent an institution that has nearly five decades of experience making higher education accessible for adult students. I also felt the profound importance of struggling to keep that mission vital since as so many of the other speakers pointed out budgets for higher education are being slashed everywhere, impeding resources and innovations to help new majority students thrive in the academic environment.

After SNL Writing’s presentation on creating a writing program for adult students, we were able to discuss issues related to this with our international colleagues. One of our Irish colleagues confided that their institution has a reputation for being inhospitable to adults although they promote accessibility for other populations. In turn, another colleague asked us how our adult programs worked to provide access for people with physical and learning disabilities. The lively but brief exchange was a reminder that all institutions need to consider the intersections of their student populations and that we should be “asking the other question” when it comes to providing access.

After three days of productive dialogue, Dr. Craig Mahoney gave the conference’s final keynote. He spoke of the needs for institutions to be more nimble in creating programs that prepared students for a changing global landscape. In particular, he stressed that forward looking programs would help students become “critical, independent, autonomous lifelong learners,” professional self-regulating practitioners,” and “resilient and flexible collaborators.” These outcomes resonate with SNL’s andragogical goals and offer encouragement for us to maintain our core values as we adapt to the ever-changing landscape in higher education.

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