While many people think of college as a rite of passage for young adults, the average age of college students has risen in recent years.
The National Center for Educational Statistics reports, “From 2006 to 2017, NCES projects a 10 percent enrollment increase for people under 25, and a 19 percent enrollment increase for people 25 and over.”
The rapid increase in the 25+ age group seems high, even surprising given the tight economy, where many people cannot afford higher education. As their age indicates, most of these college attendees are already working professionals, so it begs the question, “What’s prompting this predicted surge in enrollment?”
1. Increase earning power. With good reason, one might expect this consideration to top the list. According to, “The College Calculation” published in the New York Times, “The median earnings of full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees was nearly $47,000 in 2007, according to the Census Bureau.” Even more impressive, employees with an advanced degree such as a master’s earned an average of $74,602.
2. Capitalize on prior education. The article cited above also stated, “The median for someone who had attended college but failed to get a four-year degree was nearly $33,000.” With nearly 50 percent of all students failing to complete their degree, this statistic translates to roughly $14,000 less in earning power per year. Former students are returning to universities to successfully complete their degrees so they can capitalize on the advantages.
3. Position for future success. High unemployment numbers and a scarcity of professional jobs have actually helped to boost college enrollment numbers. Unemployed workers now have the time to pursue additional degrees or education, which can be an important differentiator as the job market rebounds and companies begin the rehiring process.
4. Develop specific skill sets. While real-world experience can teach people interpersonal strategies and management techniques, specialized skills such as information technology might require an information systems degree or computer science degree. Additionally, if an individual is looking to make a radical shift in his or her career, specific training or education is a smart place to start.
5. Build a professional and peer network. While receiving a degree may be the primary objective of attending college, the ability to cultivate a professional network is another attractive benefit. American Sentinel University Professor Dr. Danielle Babb notes that “many students are using the virtual world to try to network with others that are in other states with lower unemployment rates for potential relocation.” Whether online or traditional, the university campus is the perfect place to meet like-minded individuals or professionals with similar interests. Additionally, universities typically have connections with corporations and recruiters, which might open the door to a new career opportunity.
With these five tangible benefits in mind, it is easier to understand the rising number of 25+ year-old college attendees. What’s more, colleges and universities are making it more accessible to pursue such degrees. Evening courses give working professionals the flexibility to work full-time while pursuing additional education, and virtual classrooms give students the option of earning an online bachelor’s degree. Grants and loans also can lessen the financial burden so unemployed workers can obtain education and specific skills.