The much-anticipated listings of the nation’s best colleges put out by U.S. News & World Report and other similar national rankings look at metrics that are usually more pertinent to the “traditional” college student. These rankings are based on measures such as the entering class’s test scores, high school class rank, admission rates (the harder it is to get into a school the better), and the percentage of full-time freshmen who come back for their sophomore year.  Not surprisingly, universities that primarily serve adult learners, who may have delayed for multiple reasons the completion of their higher education, do not typically show up on these kinds of rankings.

Washington Monthly magazine, however, this fall published a different list: the best four-year colleges for adult students, a population that makes up about 40 percent of all college students nationally. On that ranking, National University comes in 18th in the nation. The Washington Monthly criteria included the percentage of students age 25 and above (74% at National, according to the magazine’s data), the ease of applying and transferring in; flexibility, which means offering classes and tutoring at times convenient for working adults; and the availability of services adults typically need, such as career counseling and job placement.

We’re proud to be on the list as one of the nation’s Top Twenty four-year institutions, among the Top Three in California, and #1 in Southern California. The recognition is a tribute to our faculty and our staff, who work hard to make sure our students get what they need to succeed. That’s also the motivation behind our Precision Education initiative, in which we’re trying to create a learning ecosystem that will use advanced technologies and predictive analytics to precisely identify those needs and customize instruction and instructional supports to serve them.

To accompany its rankings, Washington Monthly put a spotlight on a dozen innovations colleges are using to improve academic and career outcomes for adult learners. Among them: strengthening relationships between faculty and adult students; shortening the length of classes from 16 weeks to eight weeks; using Open Educational Resources to reduce students’ textbook costs; providing students with more detailed information about the local job market; offering competency-based education to give students credit for what they already know; and helping military veterans to transition to civilian life and continue their educations.

At National University, we’re experimenting with a robust combination of about 20 potential components of the ecosystem, including some of the innovations other colleges are trying, to gather evidence of what works best for individual students. Though positive external validation is always welcome, our goal isn’t to be ranked higher in future years, though, if that were to happen, we, of course, would be pleased. Instead, we are busy exploring ways to create the most effective and metrics-based approach to measuring and supporting student success through our Precision Education initiative led by the Precision Institute at National University. The aim is to expand our range of personalized learning approaches to better support the academic outcomes of students with diverse backgrounds, including our primarily adult learner population.

Rankings aside, we want to create opportunities for our students to achieve their educational goals as quickly and affordably as possible. That, to us, is the best type of validation.

Blog post written by Dr. David Andrews, President of National University. Precision Education is a research-based initiative that is exploring new ways to leverage technology, open education resources, and predictive data analytics to adapt to student needs and guide them to successful completion of their academic and career goals. The initiative is led by the Precision Institute at National University. Learn more at: https://www.nu.edu/precision