Increasingly, the landscape of higher education is changing. Gone are the days where college campuses were dominated by “traditional age” college students. Today, an increasing number of older students are finding comfort in going back to school, and their reasoning is diverse. In order to accommodate the adult learner, institutions have begun to change their programs, delivery methods, and services. This has also changed higher education in a broader sense, as the increasingly diverse student of today has different viewpoints on the purpose and application of higher education. Here are a few thoughts on why older students are returning to college.
One reason for the increase in older students has to do with the economy. It has been well-documented in the media that the economy has had some tough struggles over the last couple of years. Certain industries have stumbled, large and small companies have gone out of business, and individuals have lost their jobs. Some people have dealt with this problem by going back to school in order to gain new skills or training for a new career. While economic difficulties are never welcome, going back to school has providing some older students with an opportunity to explore new vocational directions.
Some older students have gone back to school voluntarily because they had a desire to do something new with their life. In a previous time period, it was perhaps more common for adults to stay with their current job for a longer period of time. Today, adults are much more free to explore new careers, go back for “second” careers, and experiment with their vocation. The increase of weekend, evening, and online classes has allowed some older students to pursue education while maintaining their current jobs. This has allowed them to balance fiscal responsibility with new vocational goals.
Finally, older students are going back to school because it has become more socially acceptable for them to do so. Again, young people are no longer the only ones that are expected on the college campus. Older students are exploring new careers, adding degrees, or simply taking a class or two for their own enrichment. This has diversified the college campus and opened more doors for older students who might not have “taken the plunge” in prior years. College has changed, but it has also become a place where “lifelong learners” can pursue educational goals and better themselves scholastically.