Monitor Board of Contributors: For adult students, a range of local options
Earlier this week, the Monitor featured an article about a soldier who had returned from Iraq and is getting his college degree from New England College (“At NEC, veterans thrive,” front page, Sept. 29). That this subject warranted a headline in the Monitor underlines an interesting split in the world of adult education in the Concord area, as well as across the country. There are programs offering courses in classrooms to train adults in specific careers and other classroom-based programs offered to adults who are just hungry to learn. The latter is growing; the former is in flux.
It’s easy to understand the growing demand for career-specific education: Employer-based training is becoming less common. The past 20 years have seen the demise of the concept of working in one organization for an entire career. Pensions are rarely offered anymore as a way of keeping employees until they retire. Moreover, many once-solid, long-operating employers, like New Hampshire Savings Bank and Rumford Press, have gone out of business as a result of forces that are unlikely to diminish. This does not encourage young adults to seek work with any private employer in hopes of staying with that company for life.
So today most employers, sensing that their employees are not likely to stay with them for a long time, can no longer justify the cost of lengthy in-house career-oriented training. Add to this the desire by many employees to make a career change sometime during their working years, and you create a growing demand for career-specific courses outside of the workplace.
For generations, Concord-based NHTI has focused primarily on just that kind of learning, offering courses in accounting, business management, education, nursing, computer engineering and dental hygiene. At the same time, Concord Community Education, based at Concord High School, has offered evening programs on a wide range of topics, a few of which could enhance one’s career. Why else take a course in “Learn To Do Voice Overs” or “Social Media: How to Enhance your Personal Brand”?
But one major provider of career-oriented adult education in Concord has moved away. Hesser College is consolidating its offerings in Manchester and three other campuses and has changed its name to Mount Washington College. This raises the question of whether formal adult education in a classroom setting is what adults in the Concord area really want or can afford.
Taking higher education courses online, for a new degree or other career-enhancing purposes, seems to be more appealing. The University of New Hampshire, Southern New Hampshire University, the University of Phoenix and even Harvard University offer a wide range of academic and career-focused courses that seem to appeal to people who work all day and can study best at home or at lunch time on their computer. The price is much lower than courses taught in classrooms, but it is not yet known whether the education is of classroom quality or just an easier way to get a degree.
Just for the sake of learning
Contrast this with the growing interest in courses for people just interested in learning new things for the sake of learning. Concord Community Education is primarily oriented toward this kind of student, offering courses in acrylic painting, ballroom dancing and do-it-yourself home repairs. Granite State College, part of the University System of New Hampshire, has offered non-career focused courses for years through its College of Lifelong Learning, now called the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. More than 40 courses are offered during the day on weekdays at the former location of Hesser College near Exit 13 off Interstate 93.
Additionally, you can find a broad range of daytime adult classes in Henniker. The Learning Institute at New England College is a volunteer-run program started by a group of local residents in 1990. It offers a series of classes in classrooms provided for free by New England College, targeting people of any age with flexible weekday schedules. During three five-week periods a year, LINEC offers courses at a bargain-basement price in a variety of subjects such as history, geography, the arts, economics, the physical sciences and an ongoing open-ended series on current issues. I have been leading the courses in economics the past few years and have found the students keen to learn, knowledgeable about many aspects of the topic and, indeed, eager to debate many topics. LINEC classes start again Oct. 7.
There is likely to be a growing interest in this area of classroom courses for people in their older years as more and more people retire when they are quite active and mentally and physically healthy. But these courses won’t be just for retired people. There will likely be an increasing number of people eager to learn, just for the sake of learning, and who are still working full time but have the freedom of schedule to attend classes during the day on weekdays.
People who work online out of their homes and other workers who set up their own schedule each week are going to be increasingly tempted to take daytime courses an hour or two each week about Bach, bread-making or banking scandals just because their minds are alive and eager to be involved in topics outside their concerns at work.
What is less certain is how people will continue to get an education in topics that will help them find a job. My wife, early in her adult life, took a course in sign language so she could communicate with a local child who had been born deaf. Years later, when my wife sought a paying job, it was her knowledge of sign language that got her a job in the school system which led to a full-time career as an elementary school teacher. A generation earlier, my wife’s mother took courses in typing when her children were older. Later in her life, she used that skill to get a job in her town government and stayed with that work for years. She continues to be actively working outside the home, although now as a volunteer in a food pantry at age 87.
It will probably take government subsidies to keep a wide range of class-based courses available in communities the size of Concord so that young or middle-aged adults can find courses in subjects useful for future potential careers.
But if government programs and worldwide economic forces are the reason for the cutting of so many jobs in this country in such old-line industries as manufacturing, back-office processing and even medical technical work, it seems fair to expect the government to assure American workers in such threatened positions to get access to formal, rigorous and affordable education from live teachers in the best place to learn: the classroom.
(David Woolpert of Henniker heads a three-person investment and financial planning firm in Concord.)