For the past 15 years, universities and colleges have noticed that the profile of the traditional student has changed: instead of being school leavers, who study full-time being sponsored by parents, are single, and lack life experience, the new student is more mature (at least 25); often married, often with children and other domestic responsibilities, with varied life experiences under their belts, and who typically studies part-time, while juggling jobs, child-raising and possibly other commitments as well.
Why is this happening? Well, for many of these students, going to college when they left school was not even a blip on the radar screen. Sometimes they had left school too early; other times they needed to be financially independent; or, they couldn’t see the point of college and wanted to ‘live a little’.
For others, they may well have wanted to go to college, but found that they were not accepted, could not afford to study instead of working, or had not yet decided what they wanted to study.
However, generally speaking, since the 1980s our culture and society has become increasingly complex. Not only does this mean that everybody needs more skills in order to cope – they also need to be able to change, and learn different skills and approaches as time passes. Because society is so complex, it simply takes much longer to find out what it is all about.
As a result, the early adult years of our lives – which previously were more or less over by the time we hit our twenties – are now extended. We need to go on living and experiencing longer before we can really ‘walk on our own’. There is so much to know, to find out about, to consider, before school leavers are ready to make the choices regarding what they really want to do for the rest of their lives, or even what kind of people they really are.
In spite of increased emphasis on career guidance in schools, there is clearly a significant number of individuals who believe that they need to be more experienced before being able to deal with college and the education it demands.
These trends come and they go, too. It is likely that we will see increasing numbers of students or learners becoming more focused on developing their money-making capacities through education at a younger age, given the economy and its need for skilled and professional workers. In fact, we might even see the K-12 model of school education modifying over time.