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Here’s a little experiment: Think of the “typical” collegestudent. If you imagine a 19-year-old male who’s a full-timestudent at a four-year residential college, subsists entirely on abeer-and-pizza-based diet and goes to football games on theweekend, you’re hopelessly out of date.

First, most college students are female – in 2006, the last yearfor which Census survey statistics are available, women made up 56percent of the undergraduate population in the U.S., and 59 percentof all grad students. Furthermore, less than 38 percent of collegestudents were full-time students at a four-year college. Finally,the age brackets are shifting: At Harvard University, for instance,the average age of college students is 27.

In fact, the single fastest-growing segment of the studentpopulation is the proportion of students aged 25 and older. Whilethe total population of college students increased by 41 percentbetween 1970 and 2000, the population of students older than 25boomed by 170 percent. Adult learners now make up nearly 40 percentof the overall college population, when part-time students aretaken into account. As more adults return to college classrooms, orturn to onlinedegree programs, more colleges are beginning to tailor degreeprograms to meet their needs.

Why older students head to college

There are as many motivations for returning to college as anolder student as there are, well, students, but when asked, manynon-traditional college students give one of the followingreasons:

Job skills enhancement: Many industries have experienced changedue to the globalization of the world economy and rapidadvancements in technology. And when industries change, workersneed to adapt. Whether you are a career nurse who wants to gainmore information on the latest in health science, or a mid-levelmanager who feels ready to tackle an MBA, returning to college later in life could help you performmore effectively in your current role – or prepare you to pursuemore advanced job opportunities.

Longer lives mean longer working lives: Life expectancies haveincreased significantly over the past 50 years, and quality of lifecan remain high well after one hits the traditional “retirementage.” Some adult learners, compelled by financial necessity or by adesire to keep working, return to college to train for entirely newcareer opportunities.

Employer support: In some cases, adult learners return to workwhen encouraged (and/or reimbursed) by their employers. Employersmay require workers to take professional development courses in auniversity setting, whether online or on campus. Or, they may asklearners to tackle a degree program as part of an effort to “groom”them for a new role.

A desire to finish the job: Some adult learners are formercollege students who weren’t able to complete their degree on thefirst try. These students, when presented with the rightopportunity, jump at the chance to finish their studies so they cansay “I did it!”

“Returning to Learning,” an extensive research survey conductedby the Lumina Foundation, found that adult learners in general aremore dedicated and focused than younger learners. This may be dueto the fact that adult learners are in college because they want tobe. Younger learners are usually there because they feel they haveto be.

Online education for adult learners

One of the main lifestyle circumstances that prevent people over25 from heading back to college is the need to earn a salary tosupport themselves (or their dependents). In the last 10 years,more and more universities have been taking advantage of theadvancement and expansion of Internet technology to develop onlinedegree programs.

While online degree programs don’t make pursuing a collegeeducation any easier, they do make it more convenient – and thatflexibility in terms of scheduling and location makes all thedifference for the many, many adults who want to return tocollege.

Information in this article was provided by AmericanInterContinental University Online, an online university offeringcareer-focused education at the associate, bachelor and masterdegree levels. Contact AIU Online today if you’re interested indeveloping marketable knowledge and career-relevant skills with anindustry-current degree program. (AIU Online does not guaranteeemployment or salary.)

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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