Colleges Are Seeing a Surge of Older Students
It’s the standard narrative: Finish high school, roll straight into college, then graduate in four years. (Throw cap high while beaming for extra points.) Although movies and television might make it seem like college is comprised solely of motivated students in their 20s, in reality, colleges are seeing a wave of students over 25.
As Justin Mattingly writes in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, many students have a much longer—and more complicated—postsecondary journey. As of 2009, almost 40 percent of college students were 25 or older, and that number is expected to rise to 43 percent by 2020.
“Any time there is an economic downturn, there’s a higher rate of enrollment in higher education,” said Needham Yancey Gulley, an assistant professor in the higher education student affairs program at Western Carolina University, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “Now, people are having to get technical skills, and it’s not just 18- to 24-year-olds who want those jobs. Adults want those jobs, too.”
Some students don’t begin college until later in life, while others start after high school but drop out for chunks of time. Financial strain, children, or relocation are all common causes for this type of disruption.
But students are coming back in a big way, primarily to advance their careers, according to the Lumina Foundation. The challenge for college administrators is to help these students get credit for prior education—and to move them through the funnel quickly, so they can get back into the work force and put that education to use.