Toward a Permeable, Interconnected Higher Education System

In my former role as a dean at the University of California Los Angeles, I helped thousands of typical American college students gain the knowledge and skills needed to become informed, engaged citizens and progress in their chosen careers.

But as the dean of UCLA Extension, these “typical” students were a diverse group of nontraditional learners searching for ways to earn postsecondary degrees and credentials, often while juggling family responsibilities and jobs that meant frequent stops and re-starts for their postsecondary experience — very different from the first-time college students attending UCLA straight out of high school but representative of the current face of American higher education.

We strived mightily at UCLA to help nontraditional students achieve their goals, whether it was to enter and complete a bachelor’s degree program after many previous attempts to gain a degree or to earn a specialized certificate or credential needed for career advancement. Those efforts are mirrored at many higher education institutions today as two-thirds of all college or university students in the United States now fall into this nontraditional, or what I prefer to call post-traditional, category. When I look at this big picture, I often ask, are we doing all we can to meet the needs of these students?

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