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College building representing non-traditional aged students.

Age Discrimination Act of 1975

» Background

Age issues have garnered increasing attention as the population of non-traditionally aged students or "adult learners" (generally defined as students who are 25 years or older, and/or have additional responsibilities such as family, career, military) continues to grow at colleges and universities nationwide. Adult learners now make up nearly 50% of U.S. college enrollment, and that figure is growing rapidly.1

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Many adult learners are returning to the workforce for economic survival, as those who have lost their jobs and those who are concerned about losing their jobs often turn to local colleges to improve or learn new skills in order to obtain employment. Similarly, there are a large number of women who attend college after raising a family.

In addition, the number of veterans enrolled in college continues to increase as veterans who have completed military service in Iraq and Afghanistan return to civilian life and take advantage of the educational benefits of the GI bill.

In general, adult learners must balance coursework with work and family responsibilities, and many lack proper study skills due to being away from school for so many years. Barriers related directly to higher education may exclude or disadvantage adult learners from participation or success in an academic program.

NASA’s Age Act compliance reviews examine how NASA grant recipient institutions have reduced barriers for adult learners. In an effort to fully promote voluntary compliance, and to acknowledge innovative efforts on the part of educational institutions, NASA’s compliance reports identify promising practices for adult learners. A compilation of best practices in this area will be shared with the institutions conducting self-evaluation as part of a NASA compliance review, as well as used in future compliance activities.

» Compliance Requirements

» Promising Practices

Compliance Requirements

The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain (Age Act) prohibits discrimination based on age in programs or activities that receive FFA. NASA developed Age Act regulations This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain to ensure that the programs the Agency funds afford equal opportunities to its beneficiaries regardless of age, and strive to be free of age discrimination and/or harassment.

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Prohibited discriminatory acts include, but are not limited to, excluding individuals from, denying them the benefits of, or subjecting them to discrimination in, any program or activity of the recipient. In addition, recipients of Federal financial assistance may not use age distinctions or take any other actions which have the effect of discriminating against program participants on the basis of age.

There are exemptions and exceptions to the Age Act. Programs exempt from coverage include those that create age distinctions "established under authority of any law," for example, laws designed to provide benefits or assistance to persons based on age (14 C.F.R. §1252 This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain). The Age Act and NASA regulations also exclude employment and labor-management actions and activities from their coverage.

Discrimination in employment actions is covered under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act This is a link to a page outside the NASA domain (ADEA). Unlike the ADEA, which is designed to protect individuals over the age of 40, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 does not define the protected category of beneficiary by a specific age or age range.

NASA may require recipients to provide information and reports, to ascertain whether the recipient is complying with the Age Act and its regulations. Under this provision, NASA limited the scope of its recipient compliance reviews to methods of administration regarding three substantive measures of compliance. These are:

Formal Indicators of Institutional Support for Compliance

NASA seeks to confirm the presence of institutional policies and procedures designed at least in part to achieve the goals of the Age Act and demonstrating knowledge of and commitment to the requirements of the Age Act, and the ability to identify and remediate violations.

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This includes the University’s efforts to foster awareness of the law’s requirements and to provide mechanisms to address concerns regarding the law, for example, internal discrimination complaints procedures, orientation or training, and notice to students as to their rights under the law.

Appropriate Age Act policy dissemination may include efforts to enhance University Web sites with a page dedicated to identifying and briefly explaining each civil rights law or mandate applicable to the institution, including the Age Act.

This page might include fundamentals of the laws and references to points of contact for further information or questions. This might also be accomplished by the use of links from the University’s equal opportunity office Web site to the actual codified version of the statute or law and/or to the Federal agency or office charged with oversight and compliance.

Universities and colleges may also wish to post on their Web site the NASA brochure on equal opportunity laws, including the Age Act, that pertain to grant recipient institutions.

Admissions Policies, Outreach Efforts, and Retention

This area of inquiry is designed to evaluate admissions, outreach and communications efforts in light of the Age Discrimination Act’s mandate to ensure equal opportunity regardless of age. NASA seeks to determine whether, consistent with this mandate, NASA funded programs and services reach out to students of both traditional and nontraditional ages (i.e., undergraduate students aged 25 or over and graduate students aged 30 or over2).

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At institutions reviewed for Age Act compliance, NASA conducts an analysis of admissions policies and criteria and institutional outreach efforts that serve the purpose of eliminating or limiting any potential barriers to entry, and that may also seek to attract nontraditional students, including nontraditionally aged students.

In this area of compliance, university and college STEM programs should focus on regular examination of application, acceptance, and retention statistics of the student population by pertinent age categories. These self-assessments would help to ensure that there is not a disparity or deviation in the numbers of students in any category of age group. Such assessments would also assist in further exploring the impact of current policies and practices on non-traditionally (and traditionally) aged learners.

Other related tools include exit surveys of students geared toward assessing whether the program is functioning to meet the needs of student, both traditionally and non-traditionally aged. For example, STEM programs may wish to utilize such survey instruments to inquire as to whether there is a need for greater emphasis on night and weekend course offerings and other forms of alternative program delivery in order to improve learning opportunities for working adults or those with family responsibilities that interfere with their ability to take daytime courses.

Respondent information would help to craft policies and strategies to address concerns raised. In this regard, STEM programs should also focus on additional educational opportunities for faculty and staff designed to improve awareness and consideration of issues confronting nontraditionally aged students, such as family or work responsibilities.

STEM programs may wish to consider efforts to actively promote student organization geared at least in part toward nontraditionally aged students. For example, a student advisory board, comprised of nontraditionally aged and commuter students, may add important perspectives to the impact of current programs for nontraditionally aged students, and may also suggest improvements or additions to services.

STEM programs also may wish to provide more information to incoming students on available programs. For example, STEM programs may add to an orientation program or gathering within one of the larger orientations (e.g. transfer orientation) to bring together non-traditionally aged students and address issues particular to those students. This could include the provision of written materials to transfer students, as they previously may have been exposed to less rigorous educational demands and may need guidance with respect to increased demands.

To help increase their non-traditionally aged student populations, STEM programs may wish to consider improving outreach to include learning institutions, organizations, and/or employers, in which they are likely to reach non-traditionally aged learners. This could take the form of a new outreach campaign or could build on an existing program geared toward recruitment of former and active duty military members, a group of individuals with a large number of non-traditionally aged students.

STEM programs may wish to consider enhancing the visual imagery of their Web sites and promotional materials to show both traditionally and nontraditionally aged students, including veterans. Additionally, STEM programs may wish to incorporate statements from both traditionally and nontraditionally aged students in program materials, showing pictures of the students, and describing how the program was able to meet their needs. STEM programs also may wish to consider exploring scholarships that are targeted toward nontraditionally aged students, including veterans and disabled veterans.

Access to Programs and Facilities

This aspect of NASA’s inquiry focuses on access of students to the recipient's programs, facilities, amenities, and services, and the extent to which the recipient takes steps to ensure equal access regardless of age. NASA examines the recipient’s efforts to ensure equality of access to educational offerings and benefits, including the academic and other support services necessary to achieving a degree.

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Efforts in this area of compliance may include greater emphasis on expansion of educational program delivery to night-time and weekend course offerings. In taking steps toward policy changes along these lines, educational institutions may wish to consider a thorough institution-wide review of access to programs and services, including a survey of students with responses broken down by age, full or part-time status, and other demographic categories. The driving factor in such a review would be to better determine whether additional efforts should be undertaken to make educational programs and services more accessible.

Universities and colleges may also wish to consider building additional online learning platforms and video-taping of lectures. Such efforts may be particularly appropriate in the undergraduate setting. and for courses required outside of the discipline, such as liberal arts courses required to complete an undergraduate STEM degree. STEM programs may also wish to encourage more faculty to post course syllabi and other documents online.

STEM programs should also consider enhancing efforts to ensure students are fully aware of the services provided. For example, STEM departments should send an annual memorandum to all students including information about the services provided and a link to the institutional or program career counseling center’s Web site. In addition, the career counseling center itself may wish to consider enhancing its marketing efforts to reach out to both traditionally and non-traditionally aged students.

Finally, STEM programs should explore establishing stronger and more structured partnerships through reciprocity agreements with local businesses and government agencies, such as NASA. Such partnerships may help to establish programs that can meet the needs of the local engineering community for continuing education, for example, programs that would require only a limited time on campus.

Promising Practices

College campus exterior with students walking.

Since the inception of its Age Act compliance program, NASA has conducted a number of compliance reviews under the Act. Many of these have been "desk-audit" reviews, which request grantees to provide basic compliance information which is then used to determine whether a more comprehensive, or onsite, review is recommended.

The promising practices provided are based on NASA's onsite Age Act reviews conducted at two recipient institutions: the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics (AEEM) and the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (RSMAS). The promising practices are organized under the three compliance areas on which NASA has focused its Age Act reviews.

Formal Indicators of Institutional Support for Compliance

Documented Internal Discrimination Complaints Procedures

As to internal discrimination complaints processing, including investigation, adjudication, remedies and penalties, the University of Texas at Austin's policies and procedures are comprehensive and contain sufficient detail to place parties and stakeholders on notice of their rights and obligations, but are not too complex for parties who may not be familiar with legal or administrative processes.

EO Staff Assigned to Academic Units

The University of Texas at Austin’s (UTA’s Equal Opportunity Services assigns staff to academic units such as the Cockrell School of Engineering (CSE). This policy fosters stronger and more productive working relationships between EOS and the academic community and is an excellent means for UTA’s EO staff to provide high-quality "customer service."

Such relationships are critical to the provision of EO services, for example, ensuring that faculty, staff, and students have access to regular education and awareness opportunities, assisting the academic units in the review and analysis of demographic data that may help to identify potential EO related issues early on, and developing strategies to address issues when they arise.

Functional Role for the Age Act

The University of Texas at Austin has established a "coordinator" for the Age Act akin to what it has done for Title IX and Section 504, although this is not a requirement under NASA’s Age Act regulations.

Reference to and Discussion of the Age Act in Training Materials

Both UTA and UM conduct civil rights training for faculty, staff, and new students that includes the Age Act.  The training covers practical aspects of the Act, such as access to programs and activities, to ensure faculty and staff understand the law, behaviors that are prohibited, and consequences of such behaviors, as well as efforts taken by the University to enhance program access for traditionally and non-traditionally aged students.

Additional Policy Dissemination Efforts

UM posts its internal grievance procedures and consistently identifies the Age Act on its Web site, as it already does for similar grant-related and other civil rights laws. UM is enhancing the Web site with a page dedicated to identifying and briefly explaining each civil rights law or mandate applicable to the University, referencing points of contact for further information or questions.

Admissions Policies, Outreach Efforts, and Retention

Waiver of SAT/ACT Scores for Transfer Students and Other Flexibilities

Neither UTA nor UM require transfer students to submit SAT/ACT scores.  This may help to remove a potential barrier for non-traditionally aged learners, many of whom are transfers, who may not score well on a standardized test after being out of school for any length of time.

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In addition, UM allows military personnel to petition for credit for schooling received in the Armed forces, which can reduce their course load. Even though the UM requires that students meet all General Education Requirements in addition to meeting program requirements, it allows for credits with certain Advanced Placement (AP) scores, International Baccalaureate (IB) exam, or transfer credits.

Demonstrated Commitment Through Information Dissemination

Both the University of Texas at Austin (UTA) and the University of Miami (UM) are among the institutions that demonstrate their commitment to students, whether prospective or current, by providing a Web site with a broad range of information, services, and tools, many of which are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This recognizes that learners who have family and/or work considerations may require access to information, services, and tools outside of regular business hours or course hours.

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The UTA Web site offers information on numerous opportunities for tutoring and workshops, such as Achieving College Excellence (ACE), which offers academic support programs and graduate school preparation workshops. The Welcome Program offers students an opportunity to meet representatives from student organizations and obtain free tutoring, set educational goals, and attend leadership conferences.

All elements of these programs, which are offered to all students regardless of age, could serve to bolster student success, whether it is academic, work related, or geared toward meeting the stringent graduate school application requirements. The UM Web site offers information on numerous opportunities for tutoring and workshops, offering academic support programs and graduate school preparation workshops, which could benefit non-traditionally aged students.

Student Remediation and Transition Assistance

UTA offers remediation to students and prospective students in math, science, reading and technology, which is traditionally relied upon, not only as part of core admissions criteria, but to satisfy core (course) requirements needed to earn a degree.   UTA has a “Transfer Guide” with the Austin Community College that helps to students who plan to transition to UTA by providing a roadmap on exactly what courses they will need to take.

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Further, the University offers coping programs designed to address and help students achieve a balance between the demands of home life, work and school, signaling an environment that is understanding of the stresses on adult learners and seeks to promote their ability to succeed.

One such example is the "UTAransition" program, which aids recruitment and retention by offering a variety of resources and services to transfer students, such as: academic support; social, cultural, and recreational activities; peer mentoring; free tutoring; individual counseling; graduate school preparation support; leadership conferences; and study skills workshops.

In addition, the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence assists all students. Within the University’s Cockrell School of Engineering, students may participate in a variety of programs to assist them with their academic and career goals and connect them to peer mentors in their majors, such as Engineering Career Assistance center (ECAC), Equal Opportunity in Engineering (EOE), Office of Student Life (OSL), Engineering Scholarship Program, Women in Engineering Program (which has a mentoring program specifically for nontraditional students), and First Year Interest Groups (FIGS). General Engineering Courses (Supplemental Instruction for Math, Physics and Chemistry) are offered and tutoring study tables are available to all students at night. While generally not aimed at the nontraditionally aged learner, such services tend to improve the likelihood of success of those students.

Commitment to Student Retention

UM’s Counseling Center assists students in coping with pressures associated with balancing home, work, and school.  Computer labs, the Math Lab, the Writing Center, and the Academic Resource Center offer students the opportunity to improve skills, stay current, and meet the demands of UM’s rigorous programs. While these services are not aimed specifically at the non-traditionally aged learner, such services signal an environment that is understanding of the stresses on adult learners and seeks to promote their ability to succeed.

Web Site Inclusion of Images of Nontraditionally Aged Students

The University of Texas at Austin Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department redesigning its Web site and the Department Chair informed the redesign team that nontraditionally aged students, along with other examples of the University’s diverse student body, should be reflected in the new web pages and other promotional materials.

Access to Programs and Facilities

General Access to Services

Both University of Texas at Austin (UTA) and the University of Miami (UM) demonstrate their commitment to all students whether prospective or current, in innumerable ways, while at the same time making a substantial effort with respect to non-traditional students. Importantly, the broad range of information, services, and tools that the University has to offer is generally available on UM’s and UTA’s Web sites, and therefore accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In this regard, both institutions provide most information, whether financial aid, academic advising, registration, etc., online.

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In addition, UTA provides additional support for students in a number of ways: students are encouraged to form affinity groups; evening and late-night transportation services are available when classes are in session; tutoring is available during evening and weekend hours; and child care is available to both students and faculty with children.

UM provides a broad range of services available to the non-traditional learner, including the Office for Commuter Student Involvement; the availability of services during non-office hours; the option for a leave of absence and, for military deployment purposes, a 100 perecnt tuition refund for such leave; and late night transportation and security escort services. UM's program for a General Studies Degree that can (for the most part) be completed on Saturdays is a model for practices involving nontraditional students.

Access to Advising

Faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Miami are available to students via email or through after normal business hour appointments. Importantly, the UTA Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department encourages faculty to be mindful of the need to maintain alternative availability through special appointments and via phone and email.

Health Services

The University of Texas at Austin (UTA) Health Center has weekend hours, an advice nurse available 24/7 for health related questions, and mental health counseling by telephone also available on a 24/7 basis. In addition, an urgent care facility is available on weekends.

Importantly, the Health Center maintains a database that allows health care providers to access and share with patients information on virtually any medical condition. While the concept is by no means unique to UTA’s health services, it is an excellent means of ensuring that the Health Center has the capability to deal with health issues regardless of age.

Center for Lifelong Engineering Education

UTA’s Center for Lifelong Engineering Education (CLEE) is a model of accessibility for students, regardless of age. For example, the CLEE has a Master’s Degree program in Engineering Management (a discipline that is part of UTA’s Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department) tailored to the needs of working students.

This program provides an opportunity to pursue a master’s degree while continuing to work full-time. CLEE also offers a host of programs and resources, including eTraining, certificate programs, short courses and conferences.

Public/Private Partnerships

TUTA is exploring the possibility of developing a Master’s of Science (MS) degree in systems engineering to be offered to nontraditional students and engineers in industry. The curriculum is being developed by a partnership between UTA and NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The program will be similar to the MS programs offered by the Center for Lifetime Engineering Education (CLEE) and would be offered through this Center which has experience in offering such programs to non-traditional students. If sufficient interest in an MS in Systems Engineering is identified, the degree program will be offered on a pilot scale, and then scaled up as needed.

1 College Board Survey of Adult Learners.

2 The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) acknowledges there is no precise definition for the term "non-traditional student," but suggests that part-time status and age are common elements in most definitions. Generally "traditionally" aged undergraduates are between the ages of 18 to 24. NCES uses this as a demarcation based on the age at which students are considered financially independent for purposes of financial aid. NCES, "Special Analysis 2002 Nontraditional Undergraduates", Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Accessed at See also, "Nontraditional Students Enrich U.S. College Campuses: Older students value challenging courses with real-world applications" (April 29, 2008) (referring to "non-traditional college age students (age 25 or older)"); accessible at: