Night school loses its second-class status

One-hundred years ago, night schools existed in the United States, but they were small in number and their students were considered second-class citizens in the world of education. It wasn't until 1971, with a report from the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, that the dearth of educational opportunities for working adults was identified as a national problem.

"In general, US higher education said, 'If you don't do it by the time you are 22, then you're probably not going to do it,' " says Susanne Dumbleton, dean of the School for New Learning at DePaul University in Chicago.

Cambridge College was one of the innovators working to change that attitude, along with places like Empire State College in New York, the School for New Learning, and "University without Walls" programs on many campuses. Now, the number of colleges that award credit for learning in the workplace has grown to more than 1,000 from fewer than 40 in the mid-1970s, says Pamela Tate, president of the Chicago-based Council for Adult and Experiential Learning.

As demographics shift, schools traditionally geared toward 18-year-olds are finding they have a lot to learn about how they can better serve the over-24 set, who are on their way to becoming the majority of students. Only 1 in 4 adults in that age group currently has a bachelor's degree. But, Ms. Dumbleton says, the US Department of Education recently projected that by 2005, at least one-third of adults should have a college education in order to meet workforce needs.

"It is so different now than even five years ago, that we don't have to make the case that you need lifelong learning," Ms. Tate says. "Now the adults ... just know they have to do that.... They know learning will be a ticket to at least employment security, if not job security."

About 60 schools in the United States gear themselves entirely toward adults, and one tenet they share is connecting education to life experience. "We tell people we're not out to have them compartmentalize their life.... If they are going to be doing a research paper, we encourage them to study something particularly meaningful to their personal or professional life," Dumbleton says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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