Adult students or nontraditional learners are a significant portion of the higher education population today. Many of these students are potential completers who have some higher education but have not yet. Others may be students who are just starting out, or adding a certificate to their degree. No matter their level of education experience, one thing is true across the board: They are important to higher education institutions and their success is important individually as well as to the economy.
Adults who worry that they may feel out of their element in a higher education setting should be assured that they will be with their peers.
National Center for Education statistics show that enrollment of adult students age 25-34 in degree-granting higher education institutions increased 35 percent from 2001 and 2015. NCES projects enrollment of this age group will increase 11 percent between 2015 and 2026. Enrollment of students over age 35 increased 13 percent from 2001 and 2015 and NCES projects it will increase another 4 percent between 2015 and 2026. In 2011, in the midst of these increases there were more than a half-million students over age 50 enrolled.
Often adult students have concerns about their ability to succeed in higher education. Actually, many of them have advantages. Studies show that most students who have some college but no degree did not leave school because of poor academic performance. For most of them it was the financial cost or family obligations that caused them to stop out. Today they will still find obligations and have to make time sacrifices and juggle responsibilities, but as working adults they have different pathways to get through these challenges.
Employer tuition assistance plans can help reduce the expense students have for education. Eighty percent of adult learners say the cost of tuition is their biggest obstacle to going back to school. TAP will give financial assistance and it help generate success in other ways. TAP programs that include counseling can help students see how to move ahead in their companies. Employees can have an education plan to ensure that their courses relate to their work. They can align their education goals with businesses goals to create a truly valuable education experience.
Many programs for adult students address the struggle of time commitment. Schools that value the nontraditional student population create programs that allow students to gain maximum benefit from their life experience. CBE and PLA programs make it possible for adult students to earn credit for knowledge they have received outside of formal education. Adult students can earn credit for knowledge earn through varied work experiences including the military, and not spend unnecessary time in a classroom.
The motivation to go back to school is strong among working adults today, no matter the obstacles. A BusinessWire survey of adults between 23 and 55 shows the importance of higher education.
• 59 percent of respondents would have a more positive feeling about themselves if they complete a degree
• 70 percent of them believe it is “very important” or “somewhat important” to have a bachelor’s degree to get a job in the future
• 72 percent of adults who have considered going back to school have complete some college or have an associate degree
• 78 percent of Black, 74 percent of Hispanic, and 55 percent of Caucasian respondents have considered going back to school
If more adults with some college completed their degree there would be a large economic impact. “If everyone in the United States 25 years or older with some college but no degree earned an associate degree it would result in an additional $111.6 billion in after-tax income, and an additional $43.2 billion in tax revenue, all in one year,” states the American Council on Education Post-Traditional Learners Manifesto Revisited.
Adult students are in a good place to complete or complement their education by returning to school. They are part of a large population that is engaging in life-long learning to stay current in their jobs, advance in their career, and achieve personal goals. Employers are offering support with TAP to help develop an educated workforce and higher education institutions are developing programs that allow learners to benefit from their life experience.
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