Equity and Social Justice: Supporting and Serving Contemporary Learners in a Changed Higher Education Climate

Equity and Social Justice: Supporting and Serving Contemporary Learners in a Changed Higher Education Climate

Sheri K. Rodriguez (Rowan University, USA) and Lorraine C. Ricchezza (Rowan University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2177-9.ch001

Abstract

Through the lenses of equity and social justice-related practices, this chapter outlines one university's efforts to offer credentials and degrees that meet industry demands based on labor market needs, along with the needs of today's contemporary learners, in a dynamic higher education landscape. An overview of contemporary learners is provided in relation to equity and social justice, while providing a connection to the featured university and its rich history of serving the respective region. The authors outline the university's guiding principles, in the form of pillars, and discuss how these pillars impact contemporary learners, who are served through innovative, affordable programming. Examples of specific programs are provided that are designed to meet the need of the contemporary learners. The chapter closes with suggestions for implementing programs based on partnerships, researching industry need, and guidance through a specific mission that reflects the changing landscape in higher education.
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Background

Viewing Contemporary Learners through Social Justice and Equity

Recent educational literature has started to shift gradually from using the label “nontraditional” learner to the term “contemporary” learner (Robyn & Lujan, 2017). While the term contemporary learner more accurately addresses the encompassing characteristics of today’s college students, it is not meant to continue to single out this population or place them in the “other” category (Educational Advisory Board, 2016). In addition, according to the Educational Advisory Board (2016, para. 3), “Even though so-called nontraditional students are now the norm, few four-year institutions in particular have made necessary accommodations for all learners.” Starting to understand the needs and acknowledging the existence of this emergent and rapidly growing population of students has led to the use of the term contemporary learners.

The re-labeling is also a strategic move for higher education institutions. Robyn and Lujan (2017, para. 1) write that, by using the term contemporary learner, “…institutional leaders can gain the footing necessary to begin examining the experience they deliver more analytically so they can take steps to create more immersive and responsive educational opportunities for these students.” There is an impetus for institutions to assist individuals looking for new ways of remaining marketable and competitive, a consequence of fluctuating job markets, mid-career changes, and technological advances often resulting in a need for continued learning. Of particular significance is the fact that individuals entering post-secondary educational settings are seeking ongoing skill development as characterized by flexible, accelerated time to degree completion and industry-valued credentials that may readily apply to future degrees through credit for prior learning and workplace experience (Crawford, 2017; Milheim, 2005).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Rowan University: The four-year institution that is featured in this chapter.

Contemporary Learner: An all-encompassing term to refer to non-traditional students and other populations that have been historically underserved and/or underrepresented in the higher-education sector.

Community College: Two-year institution that grants associate degrees (degrees that are typically 60 credits and not a bachelor’s degree).

Historically Underserved/Underrepresented Students: Students who are typically not viewed as being the traditional college student. This can include an adult student who is older than 22, a student of color, or a student from a lower-income bracket who may not have been able to afford a college education previously, among others.

Labor Market: The current needs, demands, and trends of today’s workforce.

Non-Credit: Courses and/or other opportunities offered by an institution that students and the broader community participate in, but which does not result in college credit.

Partner College: An institution with which another institution partners to offer programs for students.

Equity: Alluding to equality and even distribution of opportunities and other items in a society and/or a group, regardless of life circumstances or background.

Rowan Global: An entity within Rowan University that offers graduate programs and non-credit offerings in accelerated, online, off-site, or hybrid formats to meet the needs of the contemporary learner.

Professional Development: Courses, seminars, or other avenues of learning that allow employees to further their career-related skills.

Credentialing/Credentials: Units of college credit(s) that are awarded to students for completing academic or non-credit work.

Higher Education/Educational Landscape: Trends, student demographics, and issues specific to colleges and universities.

P-12: In reference to the school system before college, preschool through 12th grade.

Social Justice: Providing equal life circumstances and opportunities for everyone in a society despite one’s background and life circumstances.

Pillars: Overarching guiding philosophies or standards that become part of the work of an organization or institution.

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