It seems that, in the last few months, people in higher ed are talking about two things: nontraditional students and online course offerings. Strange, those of us who’ve been paying attention for the last dozen years have known more and more adult students are attending college each year, and many of these adults enroll in online courses, most on a part-time basis. Why have so many missed these obvious occurrences?

Forgive me, but I’m a businessman who became involved in higher education when I was asked to rescue a small failing college in 2005. Thanks to my business background I was not a prisoner to the traditional, pervasive mindset clouding the objectivity of far too many higher ed administrators and trustees. Two things were immediately apparent to me by the middle of 2006, both related to the inevitability of online penetration in providing courses to the busy but interested adult. Traditionalists attacked the University of Phoenix and its many imitators, as much for being online as for being for-profit.

Now I see pundits of varying backgrounds writing and talking about the adult – nontraditional – college student and the necessity of providing classes and degree programs online. Some institutions, most recently the University of Massachusetts, are crowing that they are either starting or expanding online programs. No surprise that they are also beginning to target working adults.

Despite the recent emergence of those heads from the sand, I still talk to institutions who are reluctant to start or expand, online programs. And god-forbid they target potential enrollees who are 24 or older. I keep hearing “It’s our mission to (fill in the blanks) and that doesn’t include (adults or online courses).” Well, folks, missions change as the environment changes. Some business gurus say, “If you don’t change you’re falling behind.” How many of our colleges and universities are falling behind because they won’t change? Far too many, I think.