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10 Surprising statistics about adult learners

For those adults who bypassed college for a job, travel, marriage or babies, a college education is a tempting goal. College graduates often have career opportunities that aren’t available for those who forego an education. Many adults are working hard to achieve their goal of a college graduation, and thereby changing the landscape of secondary education across the United States.

Woman smiling over stack of books

“Traditional” students aren’t so traditional

Fact #1: A traditional student is a learner who fits the stereotype that most people have when they think of a college student: young and just out of high school. In fact, the percentage of college students that fall within this traditional category is down to 29 percent. This means that a full 71 percent of college students are nontraditional students, including a giant number of adult learners who work full- or part-time and have obligations outside of coursework.

Fact #2: For many years, men held the majority on college campuses, but that trend has changed. Now the majority of college students are women, including 58 percent of adult learners.

Fact #3: The average college student is older than people usually assume. Over one in three college students begin their education after the age of 25, even though it’s assumed that students usually go straight into college from high school. One in five college students begin after the age of 30.

Very few students focus solely on school

Fact #4: Many students are juggling the responsibilities of both work and school. A full 32 percent of all college students hold down a full-time job.

Fact #5: Even though it’s extremely difficult to juggle work, life and school responsibilities that pull students in many directions, there is no doubt that students are making it work. Of the students enrolled in an undergraduate program, 23 percent are parents to one or more children. Even more remarkably, 13 percent of students are managing their parental responsibilities without the help of a partner.

Fact #6: So-called traditional students are far less likely to juggle many responsibilities than adult or nontraditional students. Only 13 percent of traditional students work during their college education, but a full 60 percent of adult learners work at least part time while obtaining their college degree.

Fact #7: There has been substantial growth in the number of college students who rely partially or solely on online education. Online education is helpful to adult learners who are trying to manage their professional and family lives. Twenty percent of college students take at least one online class, and 4 percent take their entire college education online.

It’s not always easy

Fact #8: Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against adult learners when it comes to obtaining their degree. Of the adult learners who start a college degree program, 38 percent leave within their first year.

Fact #9: Adult learners need to prepare to finish their program slowly over time. Fifty-four percent of younger students who have fewer financial, family and work responsibilities graduate within five years of the start of their undergraduate degree. Only 31 percent of adult learners graduate within that same time period.

Fact #10: Of those adult learners who leave their college program before obtaining their degree, 41 percent cite financial problems as their reason for leaving. Therefore, it’s important for adult learners to plan their finances wisely prior to launching into a degree program.

Although it is challenging for adult learners to complete their degree programs with the many barriers they may face along the way, it is often worth it to head back to school. Carefully weigh risks and benefits before launching into a degree plan, and make sure to research the schools that offer support systems for the special concerns of adult learners.

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