Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Do Adult Students Want from College?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

What Do Adult Students Want from College?

Article excerpt

Each year, legions of adult learners - that is, students who are 25 years old or older - take a first or second chance at higher education. This growing demographic tends to be ambitious, capable, and eager to learn. But until now, there was no large-scale ranking of colleges that cater to the group.

On Monday, Washington Monthly released the first-ever list of best colleges for adult learners. The ranking considers factors such as ease of transfer, tuition cost, and program flexibility. According to these metrics, the top schools tend to be smaller public universities, rather than big-name private colleges.

More than 40 percent of Americans enrolled in colleges are adult learners. Nevertheless, they're often considered "nontraditional" students, with many colleges and universities just starting to consider their diverse needs, and how they differ from the 18-21 year-old crowd.

Frequently, however, online and for-profit colleges jumping into the gap with flexible programs aimed at part-time students and working parents have met with mixed results. Several such schools have come under fire, and even indictment, for issuing empty degrees and for encouraging students to take on predatory loans. Washington Monthly's rankings not only offer adult learners a way to vet schools they might be considering attending, but could also elevate the needs older students in the eyes of traditional colleges.

"I would argue that adult learners are the single most under- served group in higher education, both by their sheer numbers and their importance to the economy in this country," Paul Glastris, the editor in chief of Washington Monthly, says in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

Many adult learners have never attended a higher learning institution before, and enroll in hope of job advancement. Others had brief stints at colleges but didn't graduate - college enrollment numbers have gone up, even as graduation rates stagnate or fall. Across the nation, the six-year graduation rate for first- time, full-time students at four-year institutions is just 60 percent.

"The [enrollment] numbers have been growing steadily for quite a few years, and are predicted to continue growing," Mr. Glastris says. "The value of a post-secondary credential has become more and more apparent - it's virtually a requirement for a shot at a middle- class wage."

Adult learners are eager to get their degrees, Glastris says, but they want to earn them on their own terms. Many of these students have families and work full-time jobs.

"One of my biggest challenges has been trying to manage everything. Being a single mom is hard, but it is even harder when I add being a student, teacher, and the head of the household," said Maria Cochran, an education major at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., in an article on the school's adult learning initiatives. …

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