Great Colleges for the New Majority Network
programs dedicated not only to access and completion, but also to transformative
and engaged learning for adult, nontraditional students. We know that many
community colleges offer excellent opportunities for nontraditional students. We
also know that myriad four-year institutions have developed innovative, engaged,
effective educational practices—almost exclusively with traditional undergraduates
in mind. The colleges in our Network have learned much from both sectors. Yet we
represent a new venture in U.S. higher education: a community of practice dedicated
not simply to degree attainment, but also to great teaching and learning for working
adults who seek a bachelor’s education and beyond.
setting, curricular design, and teaching practices. We are both public and private,
free-standing and integrated within larger academic institutions. What brings us
together is a shared set of values, practices, and aspirations for systemic change in
Vision & Values
We believe that:
- Great education enables all students to transform themselves and their
- Great education starts where the students are, but never ends there. It
enables students to chart their own lives, to follow their interests and
passions, and to better themselves.
- Great education always, but never solely, addresses students’ occupational,
economic, and material needs and goals. It understands these as interwoven
with students’ personal, family, civic, and spiritual needs and goals.
- Great colleges educate the whole adult student, holistically engaging their
work, family, and community, integrating “liberal,” “vocational,” and
- Learning is relational, collective, and collaborative: it is best pursued not in
isolation, but in supportive learning communities that connect students with
teachers, mentors, and peers.
- Students grow when they take responsibility for their education and are
accountable to themselves and their learning community for it. Great
education treats students as partners and colleagues in their own learning.
- Great faculty are committed to understanding the lives, needs, strengths, and
challenges of their students and to offering relentless support for students’
educational, work, and life aspirations.
- Great colleges and great faculty understand that adult students’ previous
experiences in higher education were often negative and harmful. They
recognize the resilience and commitment of adult students in the face of such
experiences, the complexity of such students’ lives, and the barriers they
confront to pursue their studies.
- Great colleges are committed to equity and inclusion, particularly for adult
students from backgrounds that have historically been marginalized in higher
education—among them, students of color, immigrant and undocumented
students, and those who are low-income, working, parenting, and currently or
- Great colleges succeed in sustaining and graduating high numbers of their
- Great colleges offer students an affordable—and to the extent possible,
debt-free—path to education and graduation.
- A great education is at once rigorous and welcoming, adventurous and
practical, challenging and joyful.
Our programs are characterized by:
- Curricula that are transdisciplinary and that weave together theory, practice,
and the personal experience of our students.
- Curricula that build foundational skills like writing, reading, numeracy, and
digital literacy, not in preparation for students’ core learning, but as integral
- Curricula that offer adult students high-impact practices—such as learning
communities, community-based research, and capstone projects—designed
to fit their lives, needs, goals, and interests.
- Broad opportunities for experiential learning and credit-earning—including
prior learning assessment, work-based learning, and community
engagement—grounded in students’ goals, planning and reflection.
- Advising and mentoring that enable students to be intentional about and
accountable for their educational goals, often through a formal learning plan.
- Advising that integrates academic planning, career mentoring, and support
for student well-being.
- Teaching and advising that consistently reference the mission, values, and
design of the program, emphasizing why students are learning, what they are
learning, and how they’re learning.
- Educational experiences and teaching styles in which learning and
life-experience mutually inform one another, braiding together study, work,
family, community, and personal life.
- A strong culture of faculty, professional, and peer support, grounded in
collaborative and community-building practices among students, teachers,
staff, and mentors.
- An academic calendar designed around student lives, stressing flexibility and
accommodation rather than acceleration.
- Policies and everyday practices that model the values and habits that the
academic program aims to nurture in students.
Highlights from the 2018 Great Colleges Institute Keynote Conversation, “Understanding the Adult Learner,” with Catherine Marienau & David Scobey, moderated by Michelle Navarre Cleary
Great Colleges for the New Majority is a network of colleges and academic programs dedicated to transformative, engaged bachelor’s education for adult, nontraditional undergraduates. This August, National Louis University and DePaul University’s School for New Learning hosted the 2018 Great Colleges for the New Majority Summer Institute to share best practices and collaborate on the advancement of innovative education for new majority learners.
The Institute opened on August 27th with a keynote conversation between Catherine Marienau, of DePaul’s School for New Learning, and David Scobey, of Bringing Theory to Practice, on “Understanding the Adult Learner.” Over the next two days, participants heard from new majority learners; shared insights, challenges, and effective practices; and collaborated on ways to improve support, teaching, and learning for these students.
The Great Colleges Network 2018 Summer Institute in Chicago included participants from the following organizations: The American Council on Higher Education (ACE), Bringing Theory to Practice, College Unbound, Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University, The Tacoma Program and The Evening and Weekend Studies Programs at the Evergreen State College, Furman University, George Mason University, Governor’s State University, Indiana University—Kokomo, Johnson C Smith University, Metropolitan State University, National Louis University, and Rowan University. Attendance was free for participants thanks to the generosity of our hosts and the sponsorship of Bringing Theory to Practice.
National Louis University: https://www.nl.edu/
Judah Viola, Dean, College of Professional Studies and Advancement
The American Council on Higher Education: http://www.acenet.edu/Pages/default.aspx
Indiana University–Kokomo: http://www.iuk.edu/
Rowan University: https://www.rowan.edu/home/
Johnson C. Smith University: https://www.jcsu.edu/
News and Press
NPR Ed: This college for adult learners is a refuge not just a career boost, by Anya Kamenetz, 7/4/18, featuring the Tacoma Program, Evergreen State College
NPR Ed: What adult learners really need (Hint: It’s not just about job skills), by Anya Kamenetz, 4/18/18
The Chronicle of Higher Education: A college designed for adults, by Goldie Blumenstyk, 2/15/18, featuring College Unbound
Lauren Roy, Liya Escalera, Stephanie Fernandez, Ebru Korbek-Erdogmus, Jennifer Reid, Adam Bush, and John Saltmarch, 2017, “Designing a High-Impact College for Returning Adult Students” at https://www.aacu.org/diversitydemocracy/2017/fall/roy
Lauren Roy, 2017, “The Student at the Center” at https://www.aacu.org/diversitydemocracy/2017/fall/roy2
Paul Glastris, 2017, “America’s Best Colleges for Adult Learners” at https://washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/septemberoctober-2017/americas-best-colleges-for-adult-learners-2/
Michelle Navarre Cleary and Catherine Breathnach, 2017, “Competency-Based Education as a Force for Equity” at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cbe2.1040
Joseph Chen, 2017, “Nontraditional Adult Learners: The Neglected Diversity in Postsecondary Education” at https://via.library.depaul.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1055&context=snl-faculty-pubs
David Scobey, 2016, “Marginalized Majority: Nontraditional Students and the Equity Imperative” at https://www.aacu.org/diversitydemocracy/2016/winter/scobey
Susan Reed, 2016, “Building Civic Capacities: Engaging Adult Learners in Community Problem-Solving and Critical Reflection Online” at https://www.aacu.org/diversitydemocracy/2016/fall/reed