Adults in College: No Longer a Rarity
You're Never Too Old To Learn
Adult students and programs designed for the success of adult students have become a mainstay on every college campus. According to the CLASP research, from 2009 to 2019, adult enrollment will increase by twice as much as traditional student enrollment. While the number of graduating high school seniors is plateauing in most states, economic imperatives are drawing more and more adults onto campuses where they can prepare for the competitive job market.
The old mindset of a college town of 18-24 year olds with backpacks slung across one shoulder is not to be discredited. That subculture remains strong. However, it's not unusual to find a campus boasting a student body of nearly 50% re-entry adults. These remarkable re-entry students may have experience in the workforce, military, or travel. They often have complex family responsibilities as spouses, parents, single parents, and caregivers. Rather than going classroom to real world, these students are going real world to classroom. Considering the monumental balancing act that adult students must perform, colleges have begun to provide more flexible programs which will allow a committed student to succeed.
The Challenges - Real and Unreal
Entering college as an adult is a challenging undertaking. First, you have to overcome the stigma. It's easy to start listening to the naysayers and believing the lies. You have to resist the negativity. You're not too old. It's not too late to get a college degree. Statistics say that your degree will help you land a better job. You can compete with traditional students in the classroom and in the global market.
With the negativity behind you, you do have to deal in reality. As an adult, you likely have adult responsibilities which you must keep up with. You have financial obligations, and you likely have relationships you want to keep strong. Taking on a full college load could be roughly the equivalent of taking on an additional 40-hour/week full time job. In the pursuit of a college degree, life gets in the way.
Statistics for beginning and completing a degree as an adult aren't good. Completion rates range from 17% on the low end to 50% on the high end. You need to think, plan, and act smart. You want to avoid a situation where you are unable to complete the marketable degree that is required for your dream job, all the while amassing debt for college loans.
The Classroom Experience
The adult student experience is different enough from the early student experience to warrant its own theory of learning. Andragogy is the theory and practice of educating adults. As an adult learner, you have certain expectations. It can be helpful to recognize characteristic of adult learners so you can determine which classes will be the best fit for you and to help you work through setbacks.
Adults learn what they feel will benefit them
- Adults want to learn what is relevant to their goal. They want what is applicable. If you find yourself in a class where the majority of content is theory, hang on. In time, it is likely that the theory will be connected to real world situations.
Adults have experience
- Your experience can be your greatest help or hindrance. Your experience can give you that connection you need to give relevance to the theories. On the flipside, you'll need to be open minded to change your personal perspective.
Adults are self-directed
- You likely want guidance - that's one reason you've enrolled. However, you want to be able to direct your future.
Adults like teacher expectations spelled out
- Despite the desire for freedom to determine one's course, adults feel more secure in highly-structured classes. "Cover the topic" is generally less desirable than "Write 2 pages." If a teacher provides a study guide for a test, there is an unwritten expectation that by using the study guide to prepare, you can earn a high score. When questions appear on a test that were not included in a study guide, there can be feelings of insecurity and even betrayal. Be prepared that instructors want to see you demonstrate your ability to synthesize content and solve new problems not previously presented in class.
What are the incentives that drive adults to reinvent themselves through education and the college campus experience?
- A degree or a certificate or the education to compete in workplace may have eluded you for decades. When the day finally comes that you can accomplish the dream, you do it. For the mere sake of earning college credit, for the sake of knowledge and learning itself, you re-enter the world of academia and pursue lifelong ambitions.
- It's fair to say that most adult students are motivated by money. They want the job that will earn higher wages but is only attainable through increased education. They know that less educated workers are more likely to be out of work.
- For a sector of adult students, the rewards are social. They want to be surrounded by other adults who are resisting the urge to be satisfied and stagnant in their present situation. They love being in a place where conversation can center on ideas and real world solutions to problems. They want relationships with professionals.
The impact of the global economy combined with the possibilities afforded by technology have created a scenario where universities will willingly offer programs to a community of adults eager to "re-career." These adult students are pursuing the skills that will get them noticed in the job market. Programs in education, IT, and healthcare attract adults who will beat the odds and emerge with the knowledge and skills needed for satisfying employment. If there's anything holding you back, don't let it. Follow your heart, your mind and your goals!