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Interview: Coming Tsunami of New Adult Learners

Interview with Stephen Higgins on the Coming Tsunami of New Adult Learners and How Bible Colleges & Seminaries can prepare to meet their needs.

Cathy Garland, Vice-President of Marketing and Sales at Edvance360, interviews Reverend Professor Stephen Higgins, who has served and is serving in Pastoral/Business/Higher Ed field for the last 38 years. His background is colorful:

  • He has pastored, started two churches, worked for two Colleges as Vice President and President and Consults for non-profits (both business and Higher Education)
  • University Adjunct Professor (Theology, Business, and Humanities)
  • CEO of TBG that has it’s work focus on Alexander College Israel through Christ Church, Anglican, Jerusalem as an International Platform for Higher Education within a new framework of Teaching/Training the Adult Learner, which has students internationally from China, Rwanda/Uganda Africa, N. America and in 2020 targeting Latin America.
  • Having earned his Master’s in Church Studies/Counseling, he has taught throughout Africa, Asia, and teaching/traveled in Europe, Israel and Kurdistan
  • Teaching concentration: Pastors, Ordinals, Business Students/leaders
  • Over the last 25 years, he has taught over 180,000 people in various settings in the USA and overseas
  • In 2018 he will be ordained in the Anglican Church.

Garland: You’ve had a varied tenure serving Christian institutions…president of a small Bible College, adjunct at several large Christian universities, vice-president of a mid-sized Bible college, co-director of an international training program for church leaders in Israel, a student at Fuller and Hope International…what am I missing?

Higgins: Yep. And I’m still living.

Garland: I feel like – and this is why we’re interviewing you – you have a unique perspective on Bible colleges and seminaries. A wholistic one, if you will.

Higgins: Yes.

Garland: If you met your younger self, on your way to take the president position at the small Bible college, what would you say to encourage yourself?

Higgins: There are tools available to enhance the student learning and the faculty’s interaction with that student that the traditional model of learning can be improved upon.

Garland: To warn yourself?

Higgins: Ha! Go easy on change management. Create a culture that wants change by building your team. Don’t try to change the wheels while riding the bike. Throw the bike away and get a new one.

Garland: To prepare yourself?

Higgins: I’ve been teaching organizational leadership for the past 5-6 years and I’m using those principles. I’d tell myself to study project management and relational management.

Garland: What do you see as the most pressing need for Bible colleges and seminaries right now?

Higgins: Not orthodoxy but rather orthopraxy, which is the practice of and emphasis of spiritual disciplines and inward transformation. We need to focus on mentoring: students mentoring students, professors mentoring professors, not just professors mentoring students. Discipleship. It isn’t the study of religion that should be taught; it’s the study of relationship. It’s what Jesus gave us. We’ve become too greek (we study practices in segments), but we should teach instead a wholistic approach, showing students how each area connects. Go from the “So what?” to “Now what?” so it will become a natural pattern instead of duty. This is how an adult learning learns.

Garland: Speaking of which, Chronicles of Higher Ed just put out a great report on the coming wave – tsunami even – of adult students returning to school. These are 1) students who dropped out previously due to maturity issues, 2) students who got a useless degree and 3) students who need more skills to compete in a tougher job market. Do you think Bible colleges and seminaries are well poised to serve these students? Why or why not? Should they be?

Higgins: They are not ready for these students at all. So many schools are looking at the adult learners as “cash cows” and don’t have their best interests at heart. I’m disheartened by the greed at work. They might have been student-focused in how they develop the program, but are too rigid in the application of that program. These people have families and other god-given responsibilities. They cannot and should not be asked to adhere to artificial deadlines set by administrators. The quality suffers. Adjustments will be required and time for research must be allotted, instead of shooting them through some chute.

Cathy: A lot of the change was driven by the students in the past, do you think the students will demand a change?

Higgins: Oh yes. It’s going to happen. Just like they demanded online training. The current form of online training is extremely unhealthy for the students and adjuncts. For example, drowning the deployed army member in content requirements to the point where the student either quits or is divorced by the second year. This is ridiculous. It’s being run by administrators, not educators. They are concerned by sequencing and hitting the mark (however many students) but a end up low graduation rate. Adult learners will get wise to that and go where they can achieve the results they want: the degree.

Cathy: Make some predictions for us.

Higgins: The rise of different kinds of accreditation rather than the regional box – like ABHE. Or the increased freedom to “meet the students’ actual needs” for this other type of accreditation. When the bubble of the student loans rate bursts, you’re going to see a huge drop in adult students who will refuse to pay too much money to check some “box” for an additional four years. Instead, they will look for alternative options that are going to really help their job or their personal learning path. The current educational system is not built for adult learners. Some places tout “student centered” but once these adult learners get into them, they find them to be anything but. They’ll get wise to this. They’ll revolt. They’ll find schools that prepare them for the jobs that are available, utilize technology as long as it facilitates relationships, all while balancing real life demands and duties.

Cathy: Hopefully, the schools using us will continue to be able to serve these adult learners by facilitating those discipleship relationships even online, using the mentoring tools, as well as the communities and collaborative tools so they can embrace other ways of delivering the training that meets the students’ needs. That is, after all, why we exist in the first place.


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Professor Stephen Higgins