Tailored and Integrated Career Support for Adult Learners and Transfer Students
By Tammy Alva and Farah Remarais
Career services play an essential role in adult learner and transfer student success by offering comprehensive support and service delivery that eliminate barriers such as time and resources. Equitable student success can be achieved through intentional integration of career development practices and consideration of students’ unique career development needs (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 2021).
Many students attending post-secondary technical education are considered adult learners who tend to prefer something other than the traditional university setting. Students typically are over 25 years old, work full- or part-time, are financially independent, and often have familial duties (Anderson, 2011). Many students at technical colleges have an option to transfer to two and four-year institutions to further their education.
Technical colleges provide adults with a hands-on, small-class environment and serve a multipurpose function in the post-secondary world. They aim to produce skilled employees who meet the community's workforce needs. The instructional framework reflects current occupational qualifications, certification requirements, and industry trends needed for skilled labor. Certificates and associate degree programs exist in career pathways that prepare students in business marketing, health careers, industrial education, and public service. Some programs equip graduates with needed skills in less than a year. Students increase their standard of living in desired careers, which benefits all stakeholders (school, community, and businesses).
Tailored Strategies for Adult Learners
Career service professionals can strengthen student persistence and employability by focusing on the unique needs of certificate and degree-seeking students, especially adult learners who are being re-admitted to a program or who may be at risk of withdrawing. When adult learners re-enter a post-secondary institution, they face unique challenges. Adult learners encounter time constraints due to work conflicts that prevent them from seeking or using additional career support. Students may not be aware or know how to access available resources within the community or on campus, or when to begin the registration process for an upcoming semester. Students also encounter barriers that impede their certificate or degree completion, including limited healthcare, housing, financial, transportation, or familial support.
In response, career services professionals can adjust their hours of availability to accommodate the work schedules of students (Mau & Fernandes, 2001). Institutions can also foster student persistence by providing a one-stop shop registration process (Walters, 2003). To prevent delays or redundancies in student support, career services may also partner with others both on and off campus, such as the financial aid office and non-profit organizations like CareerSource Florida, which connects employers with qualified, skilled talent, to provide additional educational support services and information related to career development, campus, and community resources.
Tailored Strategies for Transfer Students
Transfer students also present unique needs. Certificate and associate degree programs are affordable and often transfer into other degree programs seamlessly at two-year or four-year institutions with existing articulation agreements at public or private institutions. Technical, two-year, and four-year institutions can support transfer students by aligning “academic and sociocultural expectations between the [colleges] and point of transfer" (Insalaco-Egan, 2021, p. 2). Career services professionals can tailor their career resources to transfer students by co-hosting annual transfer fairs and providing early occupational informational resources to students. For example, transfer students interested in nursing or allied health programs may receive early access to pre-professional advising.
Strategic Integration of Career Development
Students understand how they contribute to their career development when they have a holistic framework for their career development (Schlesinger & Pasquarella Daley, 2016). Career services professionals should follow an “appropriate career development model so that all parts of the organization—mission, vision, learning outcomes, strategic planning, stakeholder relations, marketing, career, and educational events, and so forth—can be aligned" (Schlesinger & Pasquarella Daley, 2016, p. 29). Career advising implementation include partnerships, specific program initiatives, curriculum integration, organizational proximity, and structural mergers that assist with equitable student success (American Association of State Colleges & Universities, 2021). “Integration of career advising into various aspects of the campus experience involves human competency needs, and those individuals most often involved are campus staff and faculty” (American Association of State Colleges & Universities, 2021, p. 25).
When evaluating potential departments for partnerships, faculty often emerge as premier partners. At Hillsborough Technical Colleges in Florida, students spend 25 hours a week receiving academic and technical skills from their instructor until they complete the curriculum and the required clock hours for their chosen program. To encourage a sense of belonging and student persistence, instructors may offer opportunities to spend additional time outside of the classroom doing activities in their related career field (Strayhorn, 2018). When students feel supported and connected to their faculty, they persevere through difficulties. Re-admitted students might also be less likely to drop out if they experience a sense of belonging and support from the faculty or staff. Career services practitioners can collaborate with instructors to determine which re-admitted students might be struggling and would benefit from individual career conversations with both instructor and career services.
Through the curriculum, instructors help develop career ready skills in their students through resume writing, job leads, and industry-specific guest speakers and field trips. Partnerships with alumni, businesses, and employers also create a mentoring atmosphere that connects students with community members who work in their chosen fields of study. Students may ask mentors questions and spend time discussing their aspiring profession, which increase their motivation. Some mentors may be able to provide unique support if they overcame similar educational obstacles and share their unique experiences in the field.
Fostering Sustainable Support
Career service practitioners play an instrumental role in integrating career advising practices informally and formally throughout the campus. Post-secondary institutions with adult learners can benefit from surveying their student population and delivery services at the appropriate intervals to help their populations complete their personal, academic, and career goals. Transfer students also benefit from early, proactive career advising. If career service professionals partner with others on and off campus, they can advance student success and learning.
American Association of State Colleges and Universities. (2021). Integrating career advising for equitable student success. https://www.advisingsuccessnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/AASCU_CLC_Toolkit.pdf
Anderson, K. T. (2011). Linking adult learner satisfaction with retention: The role of background characteristics, academic characteristics, and satisfaction upon retention [Unpublished dissertation]. Iowa State University.
Insalaco-Egan, D. (2021). How Stella and Charles Guttman community college supports transfer and completion and 4-year institutions. In J. N. Gardner, M. J. Rosenberg, & A. K. Koch (Eds.), The transfer experience: A handbook for creating a more equitable successful postsecondary system (pp. 1-5). Stylus.
Mau, W. C., & Fernandes, A. (2001). Characteristics and satisfaction of students who utilized career counseling services. Journal of College Student Development, 42, 581-588.
Schlesinger, J., & Pasquarella Daley, L. (2016, April). Career development models for the 21st century. The NACE Journal, LXXVI(4), 24-29. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324654712_Career_Development_Models_for_the_21st_Century
Strayhorn, T. L. (2018). College students’ sense of belonging: A key to educational success for all students. Routledge.
Walters, E. W. (2003). Editor’s choice: Becoming student centered via the one-stop shop initiative: A case study of Onondaga Community College. Community College Review, 31(3), 40-54.
Tammy Alva, M.A., is an Adult Technical Counselor at Erwin Technical College, one of Hillsborough Technical Colleges' three campuses, a postsecondary adult institution, and an extension of Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Florida. Tammy has over 18 years of experience in education. She began her professional career in education as a middle school Social Studies Teacher. Tammy holds an M.A. in Counselor Education, a Graduate Certificate in Career Counseling, a B.S. in Social Science Education, and a B.A. in History, all from the University of South Florida. She can be reached at TammyD.Abraham.Alva@gmail.com.
Farah Remarais, M.A., is an Adult Technical Counselor at Erwin Technical College, one of Hillsborough Technical Colleges' three campuses, a postsecondary adult institution, and an extension of Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Florida. Farah has over 23 years of experience in education. She began her professional career in education as a founding Special Education teacher of Pepin Academy. Farah holds an M.A. in Counselor Education, and a B.S. in Special Education, both from the University of South Florida. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.