To examine trends of older students have been returning to college, the history of the trends has been around for a long time. In the undergraduate areas, many have gone through what used to be called “night school” in order to advance in their jobs. When the merit systems at work developed, having a college degree came to be an understandable benefit to employers. Also, there were many companies that had the profits to fund college for their employees.
During and after times of war, returning or retired Veterans have always been a class of “older and definitely wiser” student, thanks to the GI Bills of various types. Since the inception of the GI bill, doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers and other professionals started their college career on the GI Bills, bringing their military and travel experience along with them.
Then, colleges and universities found a booming business in the programs that were developed to accommodate the working individual, especially when they had years on the job and needed an undergraduate or advanced degree in order to get into management, or even to function better as managers. This was later enhanced by the internet, which allowed on line learning.
Thus, the older “invisible” student became a big part of the student body, even when they were not an obvious part of campus life. These were students who did not participate in the full time college experience, as they were working and raising families. They simply needed pure learning and not the full time immersion into college life.
But there have always been even older students who firmly believe that education should never stop. The “Renaissance Society”, in Sacramento, California, for example, is set up for students who are 55 and older, including some who are in their nineties, to use state university facilities in order to attend a variety of classes and seminars on a year ’round basis.
Retirees often find that they want to learn a specific subject, such as writing, music, or graphic arts. These goals are now achievable through certificate and seminar programs, or by attending local junior colleges. They are convenient in that they do not require the full immersion into the college experience, nor do they require that the student jump through the academic “hoops” of coursework that is not directly related to their particular goal of learning about a specific area.
Later in life, accidents, injuries and disability may cause a person to have to retrain through disability rehabilitation programs that pay for college educations or technical schools. Such rehabilitation programs can range from specialty technical schools to full time college life, injecting students who are farther along in age into the student body.
Finally, the economic situation is making necessary for older retired and unemployed individuals to re-train into new work fields, to update their skills, or to further their education toward a higher educational degree in order to keep working and bringing in income.
In summary, older visible or “invisible” students have always been around, but recent economic and other considerations may be increasing the number of them who are seriously involved in college educations.