Explaining the Trend of Older Students Returning to College

The trend of older students returning to college isn’t really all that new but it does seem to be getting more attention these days. A good many years ago the traditional college classroom was predominately students who had been in high school anywhere from 1 to 5 years ago. No so today! More adults, especially those in their 30s and 40s are taking time to head back to school as either full time students or engaging in accelerated nights/weekends/internet degree programs.

So why is this happening? Than answers are many but here are a few that hit the majority of the reasons why older students are returning to college.

Retraining: With the economy in its current situation, with millions of people who have been laid off, it made a lot of sense for many of these people to return to school to earn a newer degree in a field that had better prospects than an unemployment check or their old degree. Some had reached a point that their inner peace demanded a change of career and they saw college as the way to do it.

Career Advancement: Not only is the market to land a job difficult right now and expected to stay that way for the next several years, so too is the internal promotion market. With many people looking for work and employers having their pick, it is only too easy to maintain the status quo and suddenly find yourself out of a job because you weren’t deemed promotable and the boss needed to cut the personnel budget. By getting that degree, even if you are paying for it yourself if need be, you are showing your boss that you are a keeper and that you are gaining new knowledge, skills and abilities to bring to the job. Not only can this help you keep your job but when the opportunity presents itself you will be in a position to make the case for a promotion or a raise.

Improve Marketability: While your degree or skills might have gotten you your current job you know that the only thing constant is that things change! Perhaps the technology in your field has advanced beyond what you feel comfortable with but your current job uses old technology. Going back to school might be the perfect opportunity to learn the new stuff and get back to the cutting edge of your field. This may make you a better fit at another job and with the added training you could be the candidate who gets the job.


Personal Growth and Development: You might be secure and quite happy in your chosen career field but you have always been hungry to know more and be better. This is almost a self fulfilling prophecy in that your desire to know more and be better than your peers and your old self is what gives you job satisfaction! Either way, society as a whole seems to emphasize this more and that is yet another reason that more older students are in the classroom.

“The times they are a changing” and one of those changes is education. In my recently completed MBA the average age was 36 and in the courses I teach it is almost a rare thing to have a student under 25 in one of my classes. The great thing about older students, from a part time professor’s view point and fellow student, is that they bring more discipline and experience into the classroom and therefore enhance the learning environment for everyone and that is a very good side effect.