Older students are returning to college in record numbers because of unusual circumstances they now face. These difficult financial times are unsettling and uncertain for this group of perspective students. Although they are not near retirement age, they have financial obligations along with an appetite for the good life. Returning to college seems like a sound investment and a hopeful hedge against experiencing financial hardships in the future.
Baby boomers (who are the potential older students and are approximately 45 years of age and older) make up the fastest growing segment of our population in the United States. This is evidenced by AARP’s hard hitting campaign to market everything from lifestyle discounts to specialty insurances for this ever increasing population. This would support the increased number of older students deciding that college may be their only option.
Below are some of the seemingly unrelated reasons for older students returning to college.
The Economic Crisis
The economic downturn has forever changed how we live, work, and think. There are jobs eliminated that will not return or will be on a considerably lesser scale. Companies will have to adopt a streamlined business model to remain fiscally viable.
For instance, the automotive industry employed thousands of specially trained assembly line workers earning high pay. Where are these workers going to find another automotive job when the industry has been decimated by the economy? These jobs are so specialized that there is no similar industry that can absorb these workers. A degree is not needed to operate the machinery to produce cars; yet these blue collar jobs pay as much as white collar jobs (and some high-paying technical jobs).
Unusually High Unemployment
Unemployment is so rampant that there are funds set aside for retraining programs. Colleges are taking advantage of this and enrollment is up.
The unemployed baby boomers were middle management and the Executives of major corporations. Although they are educated and still have more work life in them they are the first to be downsized during these times. It is also true that the Government has upped the age of retirement. Given these grim facts colleges will probably experience increased enrollment of older students.
Diversity is the new face on college campuses across the country. In the past this did not necessarily include the older student. No longer is the traditional student the only consideration for the Admissions Department.
Why are older students returning to college – why not? The question should be: How will colleges properly address and accommodate these students?