Experience Matters

Inver Architecture

Nontraditional learners excel thanks to ASAP

Adult Success through Accelerated Programs (ASAP) at Inver Hills Community College gives nontraditional students, often called adult learners, opportunities to earn a college degree at an accelerated, flexible and independent pace while getting college credit for the knowledge and skills they’ve gained through their work and life experiences.
ASAP uses Prior Learning Assessments (PLA) and other tools to match student know-how with college courses. This approach saves money and time, which is invaluable for older students with very busy lives that often include full-time jobs and full-time families.
ASAP students can complete two classes each semester while balancing one at a time. ASAP’s accelerated eight-week courses meet one night a week at the following convenient locations:

  • South of the River Education Center (SOTR) in Burnsville
  • Inver Hills main campus in Inver Grove Heights (Saturdays)

ASAP staff members are dedicated to helping students achieve their personal and professional goals by making the most of their unique backgrounds and experience. They make sure ASAP students:

  • Are welcomed into a supportive, student-centered learning environment
  • Develop a comprehensive degree and transfer plan that includes individual courses and assessments
  • Receive ongoing assistance from expert advisors who understand their needs and can help them succeed
Ann Deiman-Thornton

“The adult learner program at Inver Hills Community College, also known as ASAP, provides post-traditional learners with wonderful opportunities to accelerate their learning by providing flexible scheduling options and the ability to bring their real-world, professional and volunteer experience to the classroom. Inver Hills has a rich history of working with adult learners, and our program is recognized regionally and nationally.” — Ann T. Deiman-Thornton, Dean of Liberal Arts

Faculty perspective

Business Instructor Brenda VanVossen serves as the prior learning assessment coordinator at Inver Hills. Brenda teaches a course called Educational Planning and Assessment that brings adult learners together to explore concepts and processes in higher education. The course is designed to help students develop a comprehensive academic plan encompassing their professional and personal goals.

Brenda VanVossen

“The course provides a cohort-style environment where older students with busy lives meet and learn from people just like them,” Brenda said. “They build relationships and encourage each other to succeed. College can be an intimidating endeavor—especially if you’re working full-time and raising a family.”
Brenda reported that she works with students to help them build a degree plan that fits their lifestyles and aspirations. For instance, she had one student with more than 20 years of experience as a bank manager. He was in line for a VP position and needed a college degree. He had enough practical management experience to basically teach college-level courses, but lacked formal knowledge of the theory behind the practice. Creating his custom plan made getting a college education cheaper and faster—and because this approach made it easy for him to buy into the process, he became a much happier college student.
“We craft a unique plan for each student,” Brenda said. “Not one size fits all. We use everything we can to build the ideal plan. Credit for prior learning can make a big difference and can include experience and know-how gained from employment, military training and service, travel, hobbies, civic activities and volunteer service. Students create a portfolio or write an essay that demonstrates that experience.”
Evaluating and approving each individualized student plan is a multifaceted process that includes input from deans, faculty and subject matter experts. The American Council of Education (ACE)  provides standards, practices and tools that inform the process.
“More than anything, we have a passion for supporting our adult students,” Brenda said. “We’ve discovered that having a mix of traditional age and older students in the classroom elevates the learning experience. The different perspectives and life experiences take classroom discussions to the next level. Adult students make learning a richer experience for everyone. Working with nontraditional students is a lot of fun.”

$3.2 million Title III grant

Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College were recently awarded a U.S. Department of Education Title III grant of $3.2 million over five years to serve adult learners at both institutions. Inver Hills was the lead on the grant with DCTC serving as a partner.
Brenda VanVossen noted that the grant allows the colleges to hire a new director of adult learning, a dedicated advisor and key staff. Marketing and retention efforts can be increased along with gathering and analyzing data that will improve the overall process and set benchmarks for the future.

More about the federal Title III grant

The funded project’s title is “Adult Learners: Service, Success, & Growth.” The problems addressed by the project include:

  • High numbers of adult learners and first-generation students
  • Declining student success rates
  • Increasing demand for online and hybrid credit courses
  • Advising system and related processes present numerous challenges
  • Prior learning assessment policies, procedures, and application inconsistent and not aligned with equivalencies or easily transferred
  • Limited professional development opportunities for faculty and staff

To learn more, read “Inver Hills and DCTC Awarded $3.2 Million Title III Grant” on Inver Hills News.

Inver Hills ranked #7 nationally

Washington Monthly, a bimonthly nonprofit magazine covering U.S. politics and government, ranked Inver Hills Community College #7 on its 2016 College Guide and Rankings: Best Colleges for Adult Learners—2-Year Colleges. Based in Washington, D.C., Washington Monthly is respected nationwide for its annual ranking of American colleges and universities.
Inver Hills is mentioned in the Washington Monthly article, “America’s Best Colleges for Adult Learners” by Paul Glastris. The article reports that adult learners routinely have difficulty finding a higher education institution with programs and courses that can accommodate their complex schedules and responsibilities.
To learn more, read “Inver Hills Ranked #7 Nationally by Washington Monthly” on Inver Hills News.

Student perspective

Hector Rodriguez
Hector Rodriguez

Originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, a city of 170,000 on the Caribbean island’s south-central coast, Hector Rodriguez, 47, is earning his Associate of Science (A.S.) in Contemporary Business at Inver Hills. Hector was 12 years old when he moved with his family to Jacksonville, Florida. Today, he is a single parent and works as an automotive sales consultant at Inver Grove Ford.
Hector has more than 20 years of experience in sales and management. He served in the U.S. Navy from 2000–2008. He was stationed at the Minneapolis–Saint Paul Joint Air Reserve Station, where he worked as an aircraft mechanic. His on-the-job knowledge allowed him to receive credit for prior learning for the course, Introduction to Computers.
“I chose Inver Hills because the college’s ASAP program is the best in the state,” Hector said. “ASAP has given me hope to further my career and myself as a person. I’m a single father with a 16-year-old daughter with special needs. Someone must be with her all the time. The program’s flexibility is essential.”

More about Hector

What has been you toughest challenge in life?
I would have to say being a single parent.”
What person has influenced you the most in life?
“My late grandfather, Emilio. He was my guide.”

Three words that describe you as a college student:

Hector earned his GED in 1989 and a private pilot certificate in 1998, the latter one of his proudest accomplishments. He enjoys flying the Cessna 182. His goal is to transfer to a four-year school, possibly to Metropolitan State University or Augsburg College, to earn a B.S. in Management, after graduating from Inver Hills in spring 2019.
“I plan to use my A.S. degree to become eligible for positions that require a degree in business,” said Hector, who has this advice for adult learners thinking about giving ASAP a try. “You need to stay the course. It is not easy. You have to stay focused and always remind yourself of the reason why you are getting a degree.”
Hector resides in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his teenage daughter, Gabriella, who is an accomplished tennis player. Gabriella took a bronze medal in Minnesota’s Special Olympics Games in 2016. In his free time, Hector enjoys attending sporting events—he’s a Gopher hockey and football fan, and helping out with the Special Olympics.

More about Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)

Accoring to the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is the process colleges employ to “evaluate for academic credit the college-level knowledge and skills an individual has gained outside of the classroom.” CAEL reported that a recent study of students 25 years or older discovered that “PLA students had greater persistence, higher graduation rates, and earned degrees more quickly than other adult students. Furthermore the CAEL study revealed that graduation rates for PLA students were higher than non-PLA students in every racial/ethnic group. The study also found that financial aid recipients with PLA credit and remedial students with PLA credit had higher graduation rates than their non-PLA counterparts.” — Courtesy of Growth & Justice

“South of the River Education Center (SOTR) was conceptualized to bring education to our adult learners and not the other way around. In western Dakota and Scott Counties, in particular, students would oftentimes have to take online classes or contend with a long commute to pursue their educational goals. SOTR brings the convenience of higher education and retraining to communities that really needed a brick and mortar institution.

Stephanie Atkinson
Stephanie Atkinson

“It’s a unique collaboration, bringing two-year colleges (Inver Hills Community College and Dakota County Technical College) and a four-year university (Metropolitan State University) into a partnership with the Burnsville WorkForce Center. Having employment and education resources in a centralized location offers so much convenience to the populations we serve. Whether students are looking to start a degree, complete a degree, or change careers, we can help.
“SOTR offers classes that work towards degree completion on the associate and bachelor’s degree level, as well as shorter term continuing education opportunities to people looking to learn a new skillset.
“We’ve worked to make SOTR and our partnership as much of a one-stop shop as possible to best serve our learners.”— Stephanie Atkinson, South of the River Education Center Coordinator

To learn more about ASAP, contact:

ASAP Program
College Center Room 270

To learn more about the South of the River Education Center, contact:

Stephanie Atkinson
Education Center Coordinator

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