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Education Trends: Why Adults are Returning to College

By Edited Dec 6, 2015 0 2

Reasons More Adults are Going Back to School

Classrooms in colleges are no longer filled with post high school graduates. As a higher number of students of "nontraditional" ages find their way back to college, today's classrooms are filled with lots of diversity where age is concerned.

In the last two decades adult enrollees have increased significantly, and this trend only continues to be on the upswing. According to the (U.S.) National Center for Education Statistics, between 2000 and 2011, enrollment of nontraditional students (ages 25 and up) rose 41 percent. During the same time frame students under 25 were up 35 percent. This gap is expected to narrow in coming years. From 2011 to 2021, enrollment of adult students is forecast to increase 14 percent (and for students 18-25 at 13 percent). 1

Most universities have recognized this movement and have developed ways to accommodate adult students, providing a means to pursue a college degree. With so many colleges offering a myriad of learning opportunities, student populations are more diverse in age than ever before. There are many reasons why adults are returning to school.

Increase Ability to Compete in the Job Market

Job markets are highly competitive and applicants with college degrees have a definitive edge over the ones which do not have higher education listed on their resumes. In a rocky employment climate, jobs often come at a premium. It is to a job seeker's advantage to get a college degree in order to have a shot at the jobs applied for, making this a very attractive and potentially lucrative reason to go back to school.

Get Promotional Opportunities

Many people want to move up that proverbial corporate ladder and without a college degree the chances of this happening have decreased significantly. With more and more job titles requiring higher education, the opportunities for advancement often come to a stop without a college degree. As a result, many people looking to advance further in their careers are returning to school in order to be considered for promotions. In some career fields, gaining a degree could also mean getting a raise, which is another motivator for some working adults to go back to school.

US Money
U.S. Government/Public Domain/Accessed from Wikimedia Commons

Gain Marketable Skills

The world is changing as technology has attached itself to many facets of life and society. Most jobs are evolving due to the technical explosion and, as a result, older students are finding the traditional skills are no longer as practical in the workplace as they once were.

Due to technology, jobs are being automated, eliminated or altered. Those who want to keep up with the pace often return to school to either gain these skills or retrain to learn something else if former skills have become obsolete. While traditional skill sets are still important, today's job require newer schools of thought and technical skills unlike ever before. Obtaining them through education helps increase marketable skills to either grow in a current job or pursue a new one. The more education a person has, the more diverse his or her job opportunities will likely become.

Photograph by Greg Henshall taken on 11-21-2005 in Louisiana
Credit: Greg Henshall/Part of the FEMA Photo Library/Public Domain (found on Wikimedia Commons)

Personal and Professional Growth

As some jobs become obsolete, this is a prime opportunity for people who've always wanted to make a career change to take charge and do it. Going back to school allows for both personal and professional growth. Additionally, many older students often feel they've missed out on getting the college degree they never were able to pursue. Now, with so many various learning opportunities being offered by colleges, there are several prospects to consider in order to get that coveted degree.

Inability due to time or other responsibility factors is no longer a reason to delay pursuing education if that is what someone wants.  Colleges have made learning more of an equal education opportunity for people of all ages. Some are even offering financial carrots to lure adults to registering for classes. 3

Going back to school after many years, or in some cases decades, is a great feeling and many older students are enjoying the personal growth that comes with an opportunity to learn something new or simply to attain a skill that is high in demand.

A Sailor stands watch.

Official U.S. Navy Imagery/CC BY 2.0 with Attribution (found on Flickr)

Job Security

Many of today's employers are looking at higher education in their employees. While it is true that some people are "grandfathered" in because they've been with an organization for a long time, there are many employers who are actively seeking employees who have a college education. In this age of lay-offs and downsizing, a person often has a better chance of holding onto a job if his or her credentials include a college education. While someone may not be fired per se for not having a college degree, employees without one may find opportunities for advancement limited and, if layoffs are made, chances are their position could be targeted.

In today's world there is no "set" age to describe the typical college student. Student classrooms seat a variety of ages and there is no reason to think the trend of older students returning to college will decrease. Many people want to pursue college because it is a grand opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.

Adult students have varying reasons why they want to return to school, it can be for any combination of reasons. However, for most, it is usually a satisfying journey. Going to back to school after (for example) age 30 is a very different experience than it is when going at 18 or 20. Perspectives and attitudes change over time and, coupled with life experience, it can make for quite an interesting journey. I  had started college part time at 18, but then quit when I was 22. It wasn't until 10 years later I was able to return. However, it was worth the wait.

As Adult Education Advocates notes, "It is never too late...". 4

And it really isn't.

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Comments

Feb 22, 2015 10:39am
HLesley
I think another reason for more adult enrollment is economic. Times are tough and education is expensive, so instead of attending full time higher education right after high school, many young people are combining work and part time education, or simply postponing education in favor of whatever work they can get.
Feb 22, 2015 1:43pm
LeighGoessl
I was looking at this one from an "older" perspective, but I agree with your point. Being jobs are tough to find, going straight to work after HS when possible makes good sense too why someone would opt to postpone. Thanks Lesley, that's a good point and thanks so much for reading and commenting, very appreciated.
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Bibliography

  1. "Fast facts (college enrollment)." Institute of Education Services. 16/02/2015 <Web >
  2. "How Does a College Degree Help Your Career?." Centura College. 26/09/2013. 16/02/2015 <Web >
  3. Stephanie Wang, Indianapolis Star "Tuition discount offered to lure adults back to college." Military Times. 22/09/2014. 18/02/2015 <Web >
  4. Daniel Gerger "It’s Never Too Late to Go Back to College." Adult Education Advocates. 02/04/2014. 18/02/2015 <Web >

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