Adult Apprentice

Older Student

There are many older students, (over 21) on campus. Are they in the same degree program as we are?

On campuses around the country, students like you are beginning to make the same observation. The typical college student is no longer at a 4-year institution, enrolling at 18. Changes in the economy are the real driver for this migration back to the classroom. There is a need for degrees in the workplace to fill more high-tech and computer-related positions. Read this to discover you're the one who is out-of-place on campus, not the ‘older’ student.

We have generally defined the ‘nontraditional’ student as one that is not between 18 and 22 and does not attend college straight out of high school. That generalization has changed and now less than a sixth of the college population fits that description. There are now more students over 25 at college part-time and financially independent than those in the ‘typical student’ bracket.

Of the 17.6 million undergraduates in the US, only 15% of them attend four-year college programs and live on campus, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The surprising stats continue: 43% of them attend two-year institutions, 37% are enrolled part-time, and 32% are in full-time employment. Only 36% of students enrolled in four-year degrees actually graduate after that period of time.

Adult learners are leading the way and occupying a larger slice of the student pie: 38% of people in higher education are over 25 and a quarter are over 30. A projected increase of 23% is expected for the share of all students over 25 by 2019.

This change in demographic has been driven by the demand for degrees. Just over half of students are seeking a ‘sub-baccalaureate’ qualification, which is an associate’s degree, certificate or credential. In today’s workplaces, there are plenty of positions that do not actually require a four-year degree.

Not surprisingly, the home building industry is a major employer for adult learners. Since the construction industry is booming once again, the labor market is tight. Helping adult learners return part-time to college has become a recruiting tool for employers in the home building industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66% of the labor force has less than a full degree, this includes half of those in professional positions. It pays to earn these credentials, though universities still do not consider them as worthy as a four-year program. "We've had great success hiring employees who graduated with associate’s degree. This demonstrates their motivation and willingness to absorb new knowledge, which we put to work providing a marketplace for used boat sales on our website," says one company.

Motivation and learning ability for adults differ from teens, as well as cognitive and social characteristics. Adults in the college environment tend to have more self-direction and will take control of their learning, being more practical and results-oriented. However, they can be less open-minded and more resistant to change, which is a barrier to the learning process. Aging does slow the learning process, but the knowledge absorbed is usually more in-depth and integrative. Since adults have lived longer and worked, they can fall back on their personal experience as a resource.

A more demanding lifestyle with greater responsibility could compromise the learning outcome. With family, children, friends, work and down time to manage, adult learners have a lot more on their plates than younger students. High expectations and motivation are common traits for adults in college, since they have chosen to be there.

It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

(Jacob Maslow is the founder and editor of Legal Scoops).

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