Adult learners: the fastest-growing student group

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Here’s a little experiment: Think of the “typical” college student. If you imagine a 19-year-old male who’s a full-time student at a four-year residential college, subsists entirely on a beer-and-pizza-based diet and goes to football games on the weekend, you’re hopelessly out of date.

First, most college students are female – in 2006, the last year for which Census survey statistics are available, women made up 56 percent of the undergraduate population in the U.S., and 59 percent of all grad students. Furthermore, less than 38 percent of college students were full-time students at a four-year college. Finally, the age brackets are shifting: At Harvard University, for instance, the average age of college students is 27.

In fact, the single fastest-growing segment of the student population is the proportion of students aged 25 and older. While the total population of college students increased by 41 percent between 1970 and 2000, the population of students older than 25 boomed by 170 percent. Adult learners now make up nearly 40 percent of the overall college population, when part-time students are taken into account. As more adults return to college classrooms, or turn to online degree programs, more colleges are beginning to tailor degree programs to meet their needs.

Why older students head to college

There are as many motivations for returning to college as an older student as there are, well, students, but when asked, many non-traditional college students give one of the following reasons:

Job skills enhancement: Many industries have experienced change due to the globalization of the world economy and rapid advancements in technology. And when industries change, workers need to adapt. Whether you are a career nurse who wants to gain more information on the latest in health science, or a mid-level manager who feels ready to tackle an MBA, returning to college later in life could help you perform more effectively in your current role – or prepare you to pursue more advanced job opportunities.

Longer lives mean longer working lives: Life expectancies have increased significantly over the past 50 years, and quality of life can remain high well after one hits the traditional “retirement age.” Some adult learners, compelled by financial necessity or by a desire to keep working, return to college to train for entirely new career opportunities.

Employer support: In some cases, adult learners return to work when encouraged (and/or reimbursed) by their employers. Employers may require workers to take professional development courses in a university setting, whether online or on campus. Or, they may ask learners to tackle a degree program as part of an effort to “groom” them for a new role.

A desire to finish the job: Some adult learners are former college students who weren’t able to complete their degree on the first try. These students, when presented with the right opportunity, jump at the chance to finish their studies so they can say “I did it!”

“Returning to Learning,” an extensive research survey conducted by the Lumina Foundation, found that adult learners in general are more dedicated and focused than younger learners. This may be due to the fact that adult learners are in college because they want to be. Younger learners are usually there because they feel they have to be.

Online education for adult learners

One of the main lifestyle circumstances that prevent people over 25 from heading back to college is the need to earn a salary to support themselves (or their dependents). In the last 10 years, more and more universities have been taking advantage of the advancement and expansion of Internet technology to develop online degree programs.

While online degree programs don’t make pursuing a college education any easier, they do make it more convenient – and that flexibility in terms of scheduling and location makes all the difference for the many, many adults who want to return to college.

Information in this article was provided by American InterContinental University Online, an online university offering career-focused education at the associate, bachelor and master degree levels. Contact AIU Online today if you’re interested in developing marketable knowledge and career-relevant skills with an industry-current degree program. (AIU Online does not guarantee employment or salary.)

Courtesy of ARAcontent