The number of adult learners in the college ranks has been on the rise for some time. In fact, adults reenrolled in school after their early 20s and other nontraditional students make up the majority of students pursuing a degree in the United States. A Forbes article from July 2018 found the growing trend of people going back to school later in adulthood encompassed many different motivations, including staying competitive in a career field, shifting to a new career track, gaining a higher degree or finishing off one that they hadn’t completed earlier in life.

Those adults and their goals for going back to school are exactly the type of student for whom Union Institute & University—with one of its four main campuses located at 440 E. McMillan St.—is ideal. More than 90% of Union’s classes take place online, including all of its bachelor’s degree courses, and has provided adult higher education since 1964.

Shanda Gore, vice president for Institutional Innovation and Economic Development at Union, says that a large portion of its student body is made up of students who have some amount of credits from another college but are returning after life changes or work caused them to leave before getting their bachelor’s degree.

“We cater to that student, we’re very generous with transfer credit,” Gore says. Union employs student success coaches who help prospective and entering students as a single point of contact for their questions and needs. These aides outline what a degree from Union will cost, help make the course load fit within the student’s availability, find financial assistance opportunities and handle transferring credits over to Union. In addition to any previous college credits earned, Union can also apply work experience and even a company’s internal employee education toward credits.

Union Institute & University caters to adult learners, particularly those balancing the pursuit of a degree or certificate with continued employment, through offering most classes online as well as tutoring and career counseling. The university’s philosophy centers on reducing the difficulty of going back to college, which often only increases as a prospective student gets older.

Gore knows well what the barriers are for people who want to continue their education, particularly while balancing an active career, a family and everything else life can throw at someone.

“I was that person years ago trying to get my doctorate,” she says. “I stayed away from all programs that required me to sit in a classroom three days a week. I just couldn’t do it.”

Union’s concentration on online coursework helps keep tuition costs down—tailoring the experience for adults who want to get their degree online means no need for residence halls, athletic programs and many of the other trappings of a traditional college campus. That also means the university’s focus above all else is on the quality of the education being offered and developing leadership in adults looking to take the next step in their careers.

Union Institute & University is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, with specialized tracks individually recognized by national organizations, such as the Bachelor of Science in Social Work accredited by the Council on Social Work Education and the Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling accredited by the National Board of Certified Counselors.

The school offers a wide array of degree levels and tracks. Bachelor’s degree programs encompass majors in fields such as education, health care, business and civil service, within which are unique offerings like Emergency Services Management and Maternal Child Health that focuses on lactation, the latter of which is the only program of its kind in the country.

Beyond the bachelor’s offerings, Union also has a robust selection of master’s programs—including clinical health counseling and health care leadership—doctorates in education and the humanities and professional certificate programs.

“If one of your goals is meeting challenges and learning new things [and] you’ve got a goal to do this—you want to stay competitive or you’re looking for that second chapter career move—we’re talking about opportunities that we afford and we recognize your experience,” says Gore.

Gore also points out that the professors teaching at Union make the coursework even more powerful, not only through teaching effectively online but utilizing the experience that adult students bring from their careers into classes to tailor the curriculum. That and the success of many Union alumni show why the university is adept at forming the next generation of leadership across many fields, she says.

Class terms are 16 weeks with two eight-week sessions—which can help students fit courses within limited availability and pursue their degree at their desired pace—and the next term starts on March 2. Union’s student success coaches are well-trained to get prospective students enrolled easily and quickly.

“We say don’t wait until the last minute to register,” Gore says, “but if you can register at least a week before [the start of the next class term] and have us work with you—again, life might be happening—we can get you registered.”

Online college courses have come a long way in the last decade and Union Institute & University is doing a lot to ensure it remains at the forefront of conveniently offering competitive and valuable higher education, guided by its mission to engage, enlighten and empower.

“Those three words are powerful in themselves, but that’s what we’re trying to do for our students,” says Gore.