TAP: A Valuable Resource for Nontraditional Students

Expenses for nontraditional students often represent a lot more than tuition and books. Their expenses are as varied as their life circumstances, and many of them use multiple resources to meet their financial obligations. Recent changes in available financial aid could affect how nontraditional students pay higher education expenses.

The Perkin Loan program expired at the end of September, eliminating one source of financial aid available to students. With this change, employer tuition assistance programs (TAP) become more valuable than ever for nontraditional higher education students. Students who already have loans will be able to use them through this academic year, but for others, access to alternative resources is important. Tuition assistance programs represent a valuable resource for nontraditional higher education students, an important investment for their employers and great benefit for their communities.

The Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success at CLASP says that financial problems are one of the primary reasons students don’t complete college. The real cost of higher education often includes housing, food, childcare and other living expenses along with tuition and books. CLASP data shows that higher education student demographics are changing, making the need for tuition assistance programs even greater.

Among community college students:
• 27 percent are parents
• 17.5 percent are single parents
• 50 percent are 24 years of age or older
• About one-third are 30 or older

Among all higher education students:
• 40 percent of undergrad and 76 percent of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week
• 25 percent are employed full time and attend college full-time

Students who are attending school and working at the same time are pursuing a variety of degrees. They include degree-granting programs for Associate’s, Bachelor’s or graduate degrees and non-degree programs, certification and vocational training programs. Whether the education is to initially prepare for a career or continuing education to learn new skills, TAP can help students at each and every stage of their education or career.

While tuition assistance programs benefit nontraditional students, they also have a positive impact on employers and their communities. “In the 21st century economy, skills have become the most important currency in job markets. Today, workers need the right postsecondary preparation to gain a foothold and prosper in the labor market, employers need highly skilled postsecondary talent in order to remain competitive, and communities need both a highly skilled workforce and a competitive business sector in order to build attractive places to live, work, and study,” states the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce report, Learning While Earning: The New Normal.

For nontraditional students, tuition assistance may be the most consistent and reliable financial resource to help pay their education expenses. TAP is an investment that produces a return for businesses and is not subject to political actions for its availability. It provides a stable resource for working students. “We identify tuition assistance as being the most important support component because, in the absence of financial support from an external source, such as need-based grants, parental support, or student loans, the majority of workers simply could not afford the cost of tuition and fees for postsecondary enrollment each semester.”