Age of College Students Increases: Does Older Mean Wiser?

Age of College Students Increases: Does Older Mean Wiser?

Enrolling in school as an adult doesn’t mean you’re behind the game; it might be an advantage.

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If an online degree sounds like it is too good or too easy to be true, then here's a hint –– it probably is.

Time and time again people have told college students who are about to graduate: "Welcome to the real world."

But what does that really mean? These days, the "real world" with which older generations are familiar seems to be rapidly changing. Students are graduating college only to find that the job market is less than opportunistic; high school students are considering other options, like vocational schools, in favor of a more budget-conscious, "practical" schooling option.

What's more, a recent special report on higher education featured in TIME magazine showed that while only 14 percent of adults started college at 19 or older in 1967, however, 29 percent of adults in 2011 were doing just that.

So, what does that mean in terms of how the average college student looks these days? Are there benefits of attending college at a more mature age? What are the downsides? Why are people choosing to wait to attend an institute of higher learning? Find out what experts think below.

1. Adults who attend school later tend to be more career-focused.

Goals are a top priority for adults who choose to wait to attend college, said VA Hayman-Barber, Director of Experiential Education & Career Services Johnson & Wales University.

"At JWU we see students who want to further their education, and have the experience that adds value, but not the educational component to advance," Hayman-Barber said. "Students may have the technical skills, but need the leadership, problem solving, and communication skills to achieve a new level of management that combines their skill sets."

Hayman-Barber suggests that an adult who has spent time in a specific work field may be able to better apply those skills to work in the classroom. This would also allow them to "update their technical skills in the changing workplace," she said.

2. Adults seek to up the ante in the workplace.

That being said, beginning classes as an adult may also be the result of the long list of technologically-related upgrades that are being made in many workplaces.

"Another (beneficial) facet of adult learning is adapting to work environments that are highly reliant on technology and the ever changing pace of organizations and job transitions," Hayman-Barber said.

Dr. Russell Hyken, author of The Parent Playbook, agreed with Hayman-Barber, adding that the requirement for deeper education has been made easier by weekend, night and online classes.

"The socio-economic divide for attending college is not as prevalent," Hyken said. "The community college and state college system has made education more accessible to those who want it, and better supporting those that enroll with grants, scholarships, learning support services."

Hyken added that private colleges are also seeing the value of adult learners and starting programs that are more financially attractive.

"In many ways, it is easier to start down the post high school road than ever before," he said.

3. Adults seeking to attend college should be wary of online programs.

If an online degree sounds like it is too good or too easy to be true, then here's a hint –– it probably is, said Chris Surprenant, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Orleans.

"We're seeing this increase because of a combination of factors: societal pressure to get a college degree, easy access to cheap education money, and the ease at which an individual can now obtain a college degree," Surprenant said.

But some of these programs, Surprenant points out, are simply businesses who are seeking to make a benefit from this new wave of students who are seeking a higher education.

Considering attending an online school? Consider these pros and cons. Regardless of why adults are attending college later in life, school experts across the board maintain that maturity is a huge benefit of putting higher learning on a wait list.

"Most students still go straight from high school into college," said Dr. Charles Michael Austin, author of the new book, “How to Find Work ... And Keep Finding Work for the Rest of Your Life.” "That's the default move. Many lack the maturity and discipline needed to succeed. My experience is that older students almost always are better students."

Moral of the story? Adult learners may be more mature and goal-oriented, but that doesn't mean kiddos straight out of high school aren't ready for the challenge. The most important factor to assess –– in addition to financial and time constraints –– is your individual readiness to continue to higher education learning. If you don't feel quite ready, then join the new normal and spend a few years in the workforce before embarking on the college path.

All signs suggest that you won't be journeying alone.

Quick Tips:

  • Assess your career path before choosing to attend college. It won't hurt to join the workforce after college to help identify your goals for college.
  • Adults should consider attending college if they are seeking to advance their skills in a rapidly-changing workplace.
  • Don't fall for online programs that offer quick degrees. Be sure to do your research and speak with a few of the school's alumni.

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