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Great Colleges for the New Majority Network

The Great Colleges For the New Majority is a network of colleges and baccalaureate
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.
The colleges and programs in the Great Colleges Network are diverse in scale,
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
higher education.

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
    “practical” learning.
  • 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
    formerly incarcerated.
  • 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
    to it.
  • 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.

Core Partners


Bringing Theory to Practice:
David M. Scobey, Project Director


College Unbound:
Adam Bush, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Provost
[email protected]


The School for New Learning at DePaul University:
Michelle Navarre Cleary
[email protected]


The Tacoma Program of The Evergreen State College:
Gilda Sheppard, Faculty


The Evening and Weekend Studies Program of The Evergreen State College:
Sarah Ryan, Faculty


National Louis University:
Judah Viola, Dean, College of Professional Studies and Advancement
[email protected]


Member Institutions

The American Council on Higher Education:

Indiana University–Kokomo:

Rowan University:

Johnson C. Smith University:

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


Lauren Roy, 2017, “The Student at the Center” at


Paul Glastris, 2017, “America’s Best Colleges for Adult Learners” at


Michelle Navarre Cleary and Catherine Breathnach, 2017, “Competency-Based Education as a Force for Equity” at


Joseph Chen, 2017, “Nontraditional Adult Learners: The Neglected Diversity in Postsecondary Education” at


David Scobey, 2016, “Marginalized Majority: Nontraditional Students and the Equity Imperative” at


Susan Reed, 2016, “Building Civic Capacities: Engaging Adult Learners in Community Problem-Solving and Critical Reflection Online” at