7 ways KU Edwards Campus helps nontraditional students succeed

Reshaping higher education for today’s changing educational landscape.

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Something practical, convenient and inexpensive. It’s what today’s students look for when choosing a college, whether they are enrolling for the first time or want to change or advance their career. And while most universities still utilize their traditional education model catering to recent high school graduates, leaders at the University of Kansas understand and continue to serve the growing population of nontraditional students. Through its Edwards Campus in Overland Park (KUEC), KU leads the way by providing flexible, expedient and career-focused education with a multitude of benefits. KUEC focuses on what adult students with jobs, children and busy schedules need. That required reshaping and revising traditional university operations to cater to these nontraditional students.        

The most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study showed 43.6 percent of adults held eight to 14 different jobs when they were age 18 to 48 and another 27.7 percent held 15 or more. A 2018 LinkedIn survey found more than 40 percent of the 2,000 professionals surveyed were interested in making a career pivot, whether that’s to a different industry or a different function entirely. And of those who do pivot, half will move to a different industry, and more than 60 percent change functions entirely. 

Higher education must embrace the opportunity to respond to individuals’ needs for ongoing learning. Adults are choosing higher education for a variety of reasons, making up the fastest-growing population of college students in recent years. In Kansas City, some return to finish a degree they started but never finished. Others are able to earn a degree they didn’t have the opportunity to earlier in their lives. Some want to add a bachelor’s or master’s degree to an undergraduate degree or certificate program to further or change their career. And others are interested in adding needed job skills as the world around them changes. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, college attendance of adults between 25 to 34 years old increased 43 percent between 2000 and 2016. Those 35-years-old and older increased 8 percent between the same years. There are now more than 30 million Americans who have some college credit but never graduated. This group of non-degree-holding students is 50 percent larger than the number of Americans currently enrolled in college. 

While some traditional four-year colleges make claims of providing programs for adult learners, many haven’t developed programs specifically for them. Of the approximately 2,000 students enrolled at KUEC, three-quarters have jobs and almost 50 percent work full time. Twenty-seven percent are parents of children under 18. With about a half-and-half split of undergraduate and graduate students, KUEC works to ensure positive outcomes for all students in the following seven ways:

1. Bringing the campus to a metropolitan city

For more than 25 years, KUEC has garnered a reputation for connecting students of all ages with the skills and education they need to be successful in today’s workforce, in Kansas City and beyond.

Today, KUEC offers more than 50 graduate, undergraduate and academic certificate programs and houses the robust KU Professional and Continuing Education (KUPCE) operation. KUPCE provides noncredit courses, professional development opportunities throughout Kansas City, the state and around the world. 

For today’s nontraditional student, having access to a campus within the Kansas City metropolitan area offers these benefits:

  • Whether you have a part-time or full-time job, you do not have to relocate, allowing you to keep your employment intact.
  • The abundant job opportunities available in a metro area are a benefit for those who must work while going to school.
  • Students are able to remain in their homes and save the standard room and board expenses at a traditional college.
  • The proximity to many and sizeable nonprofit organizations, government agencies and businesses allows for tight alignment between educational offerings and contemporary employer needs.

2. Flexible scheduling/evening classes

KUEC combines the flexibility and convenience of online learning with late afternoon and evening courses that allow working professionals to complete a degree program at their own pace. The campus in Overland Park boasts classroom space with state-of-the-art educational and research laboratory enhancements that provide value and contribute to learning. Hybrid classes scheduled in the late afternoon and evening cater towards students who:

  • Work first shift or care for a child during the day
  • Need more time to prepare for classes
  • Want to pursue a daytime internship

In addition to on-campus classes, KUEC offers the following online degree programs:

Students from across the country and internationally take advantage of these opportunities. 

3. Specialized programs

Lower unemployment and higher pay still ring true for those who earn a bachelor’s, master’s or other higher-level degree. However, the increase in wages for bachelor’s degree holders has grown less steadily over the past several years. And while high schools are utilizing technical skills programs to help students qualify for better jobs after graduation, their expected long-term earnings may still suffer. This, along with the well-documented increasing levels of student loan debt, has inspired institutions to develop academic degrees and career programs more aligned with well-paying and available jobs.

KUEC continually works to develop new programs to address workforce demands in the Kansas City area and nationwide. 

“The Edwards Campus is a KU answer to serving Kansas City’s diverse workforce needs. Because of our branch-campus nature, we are able to react nimbly within the business community to start new programs fairly quickly, working closely with local employers,” said KUEC Vice Chancellor David Cook. 

Master’s and professional degrees can make employees more valuable and more marketable, significantly increasing their pay and opening new employment opportunities. KUEC offers 18 master’s degree programs and has expanded its online class offerings to provide a more flexible education experience for its nontraditional students. Educational certificates and other programs fill the needs of those who may already have a degree but need or want additional skills. Besides popular traditional programs, KUEC developed newer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, certificates and courses to meet the demand of available jobs and to focus the educational experience on the skills needed. The most recently launched KUEC programs include:

“We weave credit and noncredit programs to support ongoing, continuous and career-focused learning for adult learners and nontraditional students," Cook said. 

4. Partnerships with Kansas City area businesses 

One tactical advantage KUEC brings to these programs is its close connections to businesses in the Kansas City region. 

“During the next decade, half of all jobs in Kansas City will require an associate degree or more advanced degree, and 75 percent of top jobs will require a postsecondary credential,” KU Chancellor Douglas A. Girod said in a February 2019 opinion article for The Kansas City Star. “The combination of low unemployment and ever-changing workplaces increases the need for higher education to address workforce shortages.”

KUEC does just that by partnering with Kansas City initiatives such as KC Rising and the Johnson County Education Research Triangle (JCERT). It also works closely with Kansas City area organizations and businesses to tailor programs to regional workforce needs.

“We consistently meet with and talk to local employers to discover what their employee needs are and work to create programming that fits those needs,” Cook said.

With two working boards, KUEC takes full advantage of its proximity to a major metropolitan area. The distinguished business owners and executive volunteers who serve on the campus board of advisors help guide the development of campus programs, services and partnerships in the greater Kansas City region and consult on high-level issues such as access, cost and strategic program growth. They are assembled from a wide array of industries and experiences to give KUEC insight into the needs of the workforce. Many of the programs at KUEC consult their own boards as well.

KUEC’s Workforce Development Advisory Board consists of local business executives as well as civic and government leaders who meet to critique and inform campus administration on educational programs and services the campus offers or should offer to the employers of the region. This board helps KUEC fill the skills gap and provides relevant programming aimed at growing the well-qualified workforce in Greater Kansas City. 

In addition to the instrumental input these boards have on the direction of KUEC, university department leaders build industry-specific relationships with businesses in the Kansas City region fostering unique collaborations between businesses and students.

5. Personalized academic support services

Unfinished degrees. College hours from multiple universities. Figuring out what credits will transfer to a new degree program. Financial aid qualifications. These are just a few of the complicated scenarios adult students are forced to figure out. KUEC’s academic success coaches serve as students’ initial contact who help make the admissions process as hassle-free as possible. 

Not only do the success coaches work with students from day one, collecting and evaluating transcripts, working with them on career exploration and honing in on financial aid opportunities, they also stick with them until graduation, often assisting with refining resumes and connecting students to potential jobs if needed. 

Besides the one-on-one coaching, KUEC offers a writing center, tutoring and the extensive library resources that only a Research 1 university can offer.

6. Creating a more affordable college option, fostering educational pathways

Savvy students are more cognizant of balancing the cost of higher education and student loan debt with their ability to recoup their costs with a higher-paying job. But offering the highest-quality education is not cheap. KUEC addresses this by developing programs making it possible to earn a premium degree for less.

Working with Kansas City area community colleges, KUEC offers its Degree in 3 program to high school students who want to move into their career or to graduate school as quickly as possible. The program allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years. 

KUEC also works closely with community colleges to plan general education courses that will more easily transfer so students can take advantage of programs like A+ and still earn a bachelor’s degree from a high-quality research state university. And with its long-standing KC MetroRate program, qualified Missouri residents are able to pay tuition equivalent to in-state rates with no credit hour limit. 

Stackable credentials give students the opportunity to earn a series of smaller credentials that accumulate to jumpstart a degree. With night and online classes, students with limited budgets can work full time and earn their higher education in chunks. 

Lastly, KUEC offers its students the scholarship opportunities and financial aid packages available at large universities. With KU at the helm, KUEC is able to provide students many graduate programs that are FAFSA approved for financial aid assistance. Renewable scholarships specifically for transfer students and for out-of-state residents help as do graduate student scholarships.

7. Remaining accountable for a quality education

Students who enroll at KUEC aren’t forced to choose between a small, personal college with limited resources and a nationally recognized university. As a Research I university, KU offers advantages such as the following, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education

  • Sets graduates apart in the eyes of prospective employers and respected graduate and professional schools
  • Requires constant checks on quality to keep R1 designation which is evaluated every three years
  • Enhances ability to win external research grants
  • Attracts businesses who are evaluating joint research-and-development project partners
  • Strengthens the ability to recruit high-quality faculty

KU is also one of only 36 public universities in the country included in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), the premier research universities “on the leading edge of innovation, scholarship and solutions that contribute to scientific progress, economic development, security and well-being.” 

KU consistently ranks for various programs in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best of” listings and consistently receives recognition for its educational programs for veterans and transfer students.

These credentials are especially valuable for the adult students KUEC attracts, because, more than ever, they want their education to be a path to opportunity. They want to ensure they pay for a high-quality education and earn a degree from a university with meaningful name recognition that will translate into a top-paying job. In fact, KU is ranked first for “Best Colleges in Kansas by Salary Potential” by payscale.com

These strategies to reshape and redefine higher education have led to year over year increases in enrollment and high alumni satisfaction. At the same time, the rest of the nation is seeing decreases in postsecondary enrollments.

“We embrace the idea that adults today are going to be continually learning throughout their entire lives,” Cook said. “We’ll be here when they want to finish a degree they started, need new job skills for their current job, or want to pursue something new.” 

Have you been thinking about going back to school? Check out “KUEC’s Adult Student’s Guide to Choosing the Right University” with tips that will get you thinking and help you narrow down your choices! 


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