In the dynamic landscape of 2023, a notable trend emerges – a growing number of adults are returning to college to further their education and career prospects.
This resurgence in adult learners is underscored by a surge in university applications, marking a recovery from the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
However, evidence on the topic of returning to get a college degree without disagreements will be evident from the survey results we’ll go through later on.
In this article, we will explore the latest data, trends, and insights regarding adults returning to college, shedding light on their motivations, challenges, and the impact of this educational journey on their lives.
So, let’s dive into the world of adults returning to college and uncover the statistics that define this transformative experience.
Adults Going Back to College Statistics
- Enrollment Trends: A recent survey exploring educational choices reveals that 23% of adult participants (aged 18 and above) are currently enrolled in some form of educational program.
- Current Enrollment Statistics: Among those presently pursuing education, nearly two-thirds (about 65%) are enrolled in traditional higher education programs. These traditional programs encompass associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral programs.
- Diverse Learning Routes: The remaining one-third of respondents have chosen non-traditional educational paths. These paths include continuing education programs, trade certification or license programs, or various other types of educational programs.
- Completion Statistics for Adult Learners Returning to College: 68% of returning students who re-enrolled at community colleges between 2013 and 2018 completed a credential by 2021. 70% of returning students who re-enrolled at primarily online four-year institutions completed a credential by 2021.
Parents Going Back to College Statistics
Let’s break your fear of returning to college with the example of parents who finished their graduation successfully–
- Returning for New Dreams: A survey of 2,000 parents discovered that 44% of them plan to return to college to pursue new interests and dreams. This decision was partly influenced by the realization that life is too short to delay dreams, which 62% of parents acknowledged, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Seeking Fresh Perspectives: More than half (56%) of these parents believe that additional education could provide a fresh perspective on life.
- Confidence in Academic Performance: Nearly four out of five respondents (80%) feel they would perform better academically now compared to their previous college experiences.
- Delayed by Financial Priorities and Family: The top reasons for delaying their educational aspirations include financial priorities (49%) and starting a family (40%). Only 30% have already obtained a degree related to their dream job, while 11% began but did not complete their pursuit of their dream career.
- Balancing Family and Education: Concerns about balancing family life with furthering education are shared by three out of four parents. While many express a desire to attend or return to college, 60% worry about the impact on family time.
- Preference for Online and Hybrid Programs: To achieve a balance, 77% of parents prefer programs that are fully online (47%) or hybrid, combining online and in-person classes (30%).
- Importance of Professional Guidance: Parents emphasize the importance of professional guidance, with 65% expressing a greater willingness to return to college if they had support to navigate the process.
- Rediscovering Passions: Exploring education options, half of the parents rediscovered their old passions, such as working with children, pursuing culinary arts, interior decorating, or owning a bar and bartending.
- Varied Aspirations: There are various reasons for their educational aspirations. Some parents express the desire to complete a major they had to interrupt in the past when they stepped away from college to raise their children.
Others are motivated by the goal of advancing in their current careers. Additionally, there are those who aim to set an example for their children, emphasizing the importance of education by pursuing it themselves.
6 Driving Forces Behind the Return to College
The obvious question to ask to start is, why are the adults returning to college? Here are 6 reasons –
1. Desire for Self-Improvement
A nationwide survey conducted by Full Circle Research and Champlain College Online highlights the significant desire among adults without a bachelor’s degree to return to higher education, with 60% seriously considering this educational journey.
This reflects a pervasive yearning for self-improvement and pursuing knowledge that transcends age barriers.
2. Multifaceted Motivation
In essence, the motivation for returning to college is multifaceted, encompassing the pursuit of personal growth, career advancement, and the adaptability required in today’s dynamic work environment.
These statistics reinforce the fact that college education is a reliable pathway to individual fulfillment and still remains a strategic choice to navigate the challenging job market.
3. Value of a Bachelor’s Degree
According to Back2College data analysis, adults are increasingly recognizing the importance of a college degree in today’s competitive job market, where advanced skills and qualifications are often prerequisites for career advancement. The data found that:
- Significant Increase in Annual Income: According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, adult learners who return to higher education experience a substantial increase in their annual income. On average, they earn $7,500 more per year compared to before they returned to college.
- Enhanced Career Progression: The decision to return to education as an adult not only boosts financial status but also contributes to career progression. These individuals are 22% more likely to achieve upward mobility, which refers to the ability to improve one’s socioeconomic status, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Higher Annual Salary Compared to Peers: When compared to their counterparts who did not pursue further education, adult learners have a significantly higher annual salary. Specifically, their annual salaries are 140% greater than those who didn’t return to college, according to a report by the College Board.
4. Shift in Career Trajectory
Beyond personal growth and career advancement, a new CivicScience survey provides further insights, indicating that— 11% of U.S. adults are contemplating a return to school to pursue a new career path, with 8% already in the process of making this transition.
These statistics underscore a commitment to professional growth and adaptability in the ever-evolving workforce.
5. Unemployed Adults Turn to Education to Reignite Careers
Survey data reveals distinct patterns among different segments of the population.
Unemployed adults who have lost their jobs or face difficulties in securing employment are the most likely to consider returning to school to transform their career paths.
This showcases their resilience and determination, viewing education as a means to secure better job opportunities and reignite their professional lives.
6. Remote Workers’ Forward-Thinking Approach
Intriguingly, employed adults working remotely show a remarkable inclination to proactively engage in programs with the goal of switching careers.
These individuals, while currently employed, recognize the evolving nature of work in the post-pandemic era and the need for new skills and qualifications.
Their returning to college after a gap indicates their proactive approach to remaining relevant in the ever-progressing competitive job market.
The 2023 Landscape of College Education
Transitioning from our exploration of the current enrollment trends among returning adults, let’s now delve into the broader landscape of college education in 2023.
Traditional College Education Persists
In 2023, traditional college education remains a prominent choice among Americans, with increased university applications suggesting a post-COVID resurgence.
Debate Over Value
The perceived value of a college education continues to be a subject of debate. An even split exists among individuals aged 13 and above, with 50% expressing skepticism about the worth of a college degree in relation to its cost, while the other half believes it’s a worthwhile investment.
A mere 29% consider a college degree as crucial for career success.
Rise of Trade and Vocational Schools
Notably, the findings from CivicScience in October 2021 revealed a growing preference for trade and vocational schools over traditional colleges, a sentiment that will endure in 2023.
More than half of the population still views trade schools as attractive alternatives.
Divergence from Enrollment Trends
It’s worth mentioning that this preference for trade schools doesn’t fully align with current enrollment trends. Traditional college programs continue to dominate the educational landscape despite the growing appeal of trade schools.
This ongoing debate underscores the dynamic nature of educational choices in 2023.
The Role of Online Education
Building upon our discussion of the 2023 landscape of college education and the diverse educational choices being made, let’s now explore the role of online education and its relevance in this evolving context.
Growing Popularity of Online Courses and Degrees: Online education programs have become the preferred choice for numerous returning students.
Back2College.com data analysis suggests that more than 20% of adults aged 13 and older are at least somewhat interested in completing a full college degree program online.
Unemployed Adults Upskilling and Reskilling Online: The data also reveals distinct patterns in motivation. Unemployed adults, those who have lost their jobs or are struggling to secure employment, are more likely to consider returning to school as a means of pivoting their careers.
Strong Interest in Career Changers: The appeal of online education significantly increases among adults considering returning to school to change careers.
More than one-third of these individuals express a high degree of favorability toward full online programs, with an additional 38% expressing some degree of favorability.
Remote Workers’ Initiative
Notably, employed adults working remotely display the highest inclination to be currently enrolled in programs aimed at switching careers. This trend potentially reflects the changing nature of work in the post-pandemic era.
Obstacles for Adults Returning to College
While the reasons to return to college are too significant to ignore, there are certain obstacles that working adults face when thinking about this decision.
The 2019 survey conducted by Chaplain College Online indicates that approximately 75% of adults without a bachelor’s degree express concerns about the financial burden of education.
Worries about student loans are prevalent, reflecting the rising costs of tuition and the weight of student loan debt. Research by Full Circle Research supports all of these factors.
These financial concerns are understandable and present real challenges for those considering a return to college.
And 70% felt unable to afford the costs of college. This financial barrier can be a significant deterrent to those considering a return to higher education.
Making Higher Education More Affordable for Adults
Now, addressing the concerns raised about the financial barriers and obstacles adults face when considering returning to college, let’s explore potential solutions and support mechanisms to make higher education more accessible.
Favorable Interest Rates: Federal student loans come with comparatively low interest rates, offering a more manageable avenue for pursuing higher education.
Prospective students should thoroughly explore federal loan options to enhance the affordability of their educational journey.
Flexible Payment Options: Federal student loans provide a spectrum of adaptable payment plans, encompassing income-based alternatives and loan forgiveness programs tailored for specific sectors.
These choices can significantly alleviate the financial burden associated with student loans.
Grants and Scholarships: Adults contemplating a return to college should actively seek out grants and scholarships designed to alleviate educational costs.
Many of these financial opportunities are specifically tailored to adult learners, and since they don’t necessitate repayment, they can render the pursuit of a degree financially attainable.
Overcoming Barriers and Achieving Success
In a report from 2019, the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center offered some remarkable insights.
It was found that nearly one million Americans who had previously dropped out of college returned to school in the past five years and earned undergraduate degrees or certificates.
This underscores the fact that many adults are not just contemplating a return to college but are successfully completing their education.
The data from NSC also revealed the demographics of these “Some College, No Degree” (SCND) students. A typical SCND student is around 39 years old, with 51% being women.
This diverse group of learners left higher education about a decade ago, with 53% dropping out before completing two years of study.
Importantly, there are roughly 3.5 million potential completers within this cohort, highlighting the untapped potential in the adult education landscape.
While the statistics reveal the challenges and motivations of adults returning to college, they also highlight success stories.
A study from 2018 by the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) Research Center indicates that despite personal obstacles and financial hurdles, more than half of the 3.8 million students who returned to college between 2013 and 2018 have either earned a degree or credential or are actively pursuing one.
This statistic underlines the resilience and determination of those who embark on this educational journey.
From the above discussion and statistics, we can safely say that the place of traditional education and colleges is not going away very soon. And that makes it even more sense as to why adults are returning to college even after a decade.
The need to enhance their skills, change careers or grow more in their current career; all of these are relevant as the motivation for return.
While the financial burdens cannot be ignored, the value of traditional education in the college structure is still relevant in 2023.
Staying vigilant and aware of the scholarship and funding opportunities can make this journey of returning adults much smoother.