student success

Adult students present unique challenges for two-year colleges

Jo Hillman

March 13, 2013

Graphic showing the relative attitudes of surveyed adult college students at two-year higher education institutions versus traditional students from the same survey.
Click to enlarge,

According to enrollment reports from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of adult students (age 25 and older) in higher education will eclipse 10,000,000 by the year 2020. Many higher education professionals recognize that this growing population presents its own set of unique challenges and needs—but how can your campus best serve these students?

Our upcoming report, Freshman Attitudes at Two-Year Colleges, analyzes more than 80 self-reported, “non-cognitive” attitudes of students that influence students’ progress toward completing their educational programs. The study is based on entering freshmen in 2012 at 85 two-year institutions nationwide.

Some observations from this group of students attending two-year institutions included in the above graphic:

  • Adult students in this study were more likely than traditional students—78.9 percent versus 57.9 percent—to say they study hard for all of their courses.
  • Adult students expressed more certainty about their occupational future (74 percent said they had made a firm decision, versus 66.5 percent of traditional students), but nearly the same percentage of adults expressed a desire for help with selecting an educational plan as traditional students (61.3 percent and 63.9 percent).
  • More than one-quarter of all students in the study (27.1 percent) reported they planned to transfer to another school before completing a degree at their college or university, but fewer adult students (13.4 percent) reported having these plans than traditional students (31.8 percent).

This report on two-year institutions is part of the full 2013 National Freshman Attitudes Report, released in March.  In addition to the adult learner vs. traditional-age student analysis, the report includes breakdowns for first-generation vs. non-first-generation freshmen, and for male vs. female freshmen.

How is your campus meeting the needs of an increasing adult student population? If you would like to discuss issues or strategies for delivering services to adult learners, or if you want to get connected to more resources, send me an e-mail or schedule a conversation by phone.


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