Nontraditional Students’ Needs Impact Enrollment Decisions

The need for new skills in the workplace is creating a change in higher education. Many American workers are enrolling in post-secondary education to earn a certificate, complete a degree, or learn new skills that are required for today’s jobs. These workers’ enrollments are creating a higher education population that makes education choices based on specific needs.

According to the National Center of Education Statistics about 20.5 million students attend higher education each year. Of these students:

• I in 5 is at least 30 year old
• 2 in 5 attend community colleges
• 36 percent of community college students are the 1st generation to attend college
• 37 percent attend part time
• More than 25 percent take at least one course online.

Higher education nontraditional students who are older, attending part-time, and taking courses online have priorities that are clearly related to the circumstances of their lives. They are students who are trying to get ahead in their careers while they shoulder academic, work and family responsibilities. Their education priorities and choices reflect the realities of their experiences.

The National Adult Learner Satisfaction-Priorities Report gives a clear picture of what adults need and want as students enrolled in higher education. The two top enrollment factors for adult students show that they are driven by what they want and the need for a schedule that works with their lives, whether they attend a four-year school or community college. The two-main factors influencing enrollment are:

• Availability of program I wanted – 93% at 4-year schools; 89% at community colleges
• Convenient time and place for classes – 92% at 4-year schools; 88% at community colleges

Other top enrollment factors show that while students have a need to continue their education, they also have multiple responsibilities and demands on their time. These multiple factors also influence enrollment decisions. Top major factors are:

• Flexible pacing for completing a program – 88% at 4-year school; 81% at community colleges
• Time required to complete a program – 88% at 4-year schools; 81% at community colleges.
• Requirement of current or future job – 85% at both 4-year schools and community colleges

The program choices of students taking online courses reflect the needs of the workplace. Business and healthcare are the most common programs for graduate students online. Computer science and IT programs have high enrollment online and interest in arts and humanities is growing. Source: The Learning House 2017 Online College Students Report

These programs help Americans develop the variety of skills demanded in today’s workplace. Technical knowledge and “hard” skills are vital to keep pace with rapidly-changing technology, but employers are increasingly looking for employees with “soft” skills. Employees who have communication skills and can work with diverse groups are important for a business to grow and prosper in a global marketplace.

The multiple demands on older, nontraditional students, who work, attend school part-time and take classes online impact their choice of program and where they enroll in school. The important factors that influence enrollment decisions, such as program availability, convenient times, and flexible pacing are clear indications that higher education attainment is a priority among nontraditional students.