Why it's difficult to track how many adults are in college
- Experts have differing views about whether the number of adult learners is growing, but a group representing non-traditional students says that regardless of the trend, institutions should be doing more to target this group specifically, according to The Hechinger Report.
- Data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that the number of students over the age of 25 hit a high point of 8.9 million in 2010 and has since declined.
- But other data suggest that the number is rising, although the figure can be difficult to determine because adult learners may leave their institutions for periods of time and therefore not be counted even though they intend to return.
Adult learners are a difficult group for higher ed administrators to reach. That is largely due to the differences among them. The American Council on Education defines this group, which it calls post-traditional learners, as individuals who are over the age of 25, working full time, financially independent or affiliated with the military.
Within that group, needs can range from the availability of childcare during classes to the ability to take online courses in the evenings or on weekends for schedule flexibility and/or to reduce material costs. A report from the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this year highlighted childcare and financial aid programs as being among key features to help attract and retain adult learners. It notes that the majority of adult learners are African-American woman attending college part time and receiving Pell Grants.
What's more, many adult learners have previously taken college-level courses that could contribute to future degrees. A survey from Champlain College Online found that seven in 10 students who have considered returning to school already have an associate degree or have completed some college.
Many are looking for courses that can round out their career expertise. A report earlier this year from the nonprofit Public Agenda research group found this was the case for a majority of adult prospective students in degree or certificate programs.
- The Hechinger Report Is enrollment among older adults increasing? Depends who you ask