While the majority of college students are 18 to 24, an increasing number of students aged 25 and older are attending college. Colleges and universities recognize this growing number of nontraditional students. To meet the nontraditional student's demand for a more flexible education, many schools have started or expanded online college programs. Here’s why these programs are an ideal option for working adults.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 8.2 million college students were aged 25 and over in 2015.
The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce released a study in 2015 which found that 40% of the growth in college attendees between 2000 and 2011 came from students over the age of 25.
Working adult college students are different from the “traditional” college student in several ways, although three characteristics stand out the most.
This means they have more real-world experience, especially experiences from the workplace. Working adults bring a unique perspective to the college classroom and can help meld the theoretical learning often found on campus by sharing their real-world practices.
Although college students have been working while in college for decades, most of these jobs were part-time. Many adults hold down full-time, demanding careers while attending classes. Consequently, attending a class that is held on a weekday during normal business hours is usually out of the question.
Family responsibilities for adult students could mean a spouse, or children, or both. This means the time to attend college is much less, given a more limited schedule. It’s not easy to attend a class while a child needs to get picked up from kindergarten.
Online colleges offer scheduling flexibility that allows class attendance while also allowing the student to work and take care of their family. Each online program is different, with its own unique course delivery methods and academic policies. However, most online college programs are set up so that busy working adult students can attend class on their own schedule, after their family and professional obligations have been taken care of for the day. Additionally, most online programs allow students to complete their coursework at an accelerated or slower pace – whatever is right for them.
Most schools with online programs share similarities regarding the flexibility in the timing and rate at which a program can be completed. However, there are a variety of factors to consider when choosing the right online program for a nontraditional college student.
This means the time when the class is held is different from when the student actually attends the class. For example, a professor may give the lecture at 9:00am on Tuesday morning in Room 224 in Smith Hall. However, an online student won’t listen or watch the lecture until 8:30pm the next day, after the kids have been tucked into bed. For many online college students, asynchronous learning is essential. A large number of online programs will offer this type of learning, but the nature of the class determines how feasible this is.
Most online classes are asynchronous, but not all of them. There are many fully online programs that delivery most class information in an asynchronous, self-paced manner, yet will have a few class events that are live. For students who are unable to meet for a live class, even if it’s broadcasted through videoconferencing technology, they must avoid this class or make appropriate arrangements to meet for its live requirement.
Most degrees can be completed on a traditional time schedule. Associate degrees take two years, bachelor’s degrees take four years and graduate degrees can take anywhere from two to seven or more. Many adult learners do not have the luxury, both in money and time, to take the typical amount of time to get a degree. That’s why many online programs offer accelerated tracks that can shave six months to several years off the time it takes to get a degree. This acceleration can be done in a variety of ways, such as taking more classes during the semesters, year-round school or compressed coursework.
Accreditation is a process that certifies a particular school or program meets basic quality standards. In the United States, most schools and programs are accredited by a regional or national accrediting institution recognized by the US Department of Education. In the earlier days of online learning, many online schools and programs were not accredited. This meant it was impossible to know if a degree or other academic credential from a non-accredited school meant anything, such as its graduate possessing a requisite level of knowledge. Today, most online schools and programs are accredited, so this is less of an issue.
One way to reduce the monetary and time cost of college is to begin classes with a few college credits already recognized. Students who have prior college coursework, whether it’s a degree or a few isolated classes, should look for online programs that will give credit for these completed courses. Alternatively, prospective students with work or military experience should look into programs that will give college credit for those experiences. This won’t be as common as transfer credits from another college institution, but many schools (both online and on campus) will recognize work or military experience and provide equivalent college credit, reducing the number of classes the student has to take.
What happens if online students have questions about the material? It’s not possible to raise their hand and ask the question, meet with fellow classmates at the library or stop by the professor’s office for some one-on-one time. Therefore, online schools will have a system in place to meet this need. This can include e-mail, telephone calls, video conferencing, message boards or instant messaging. This means students can ask questions of both the professor and their fellow classmates. Almost all online programs will have a way for students to collaborate.
Whether it’s going after a promotion or seeking a new job, completing the online program may not be enough on its own. The student may need help from the school’s career services office and alumni network. Students who don’t have a guaranteed job or promotion after graduating should strongly consider the school’s ability to help them network with others or find contacts at desired places of employment.
Most colleges these days are ready and excited to welcome working adults into the student body, and many even cater to this group. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best nonprofit schools for working adults based on several factors, including:
Availability of online courses
Offers college credit for life experience
Dual credit opportunities
Weekend and evening course offered
At least 25% of the student population is 25 and over
Temple University offers a top notch web-based course delivery method. By utilizing Blackboard and WebEx, students will have access to collaborative learning methods that provide the most engaging learning possible, short of being in an actual classroom. With over two dozen graduate degree and certificate programs available, along with its Bachelor’s in Business Administration degree program, students have plenty of choose from. And for those who don’t need a formal degree or academic credential, Temple University offers non-credit courses. These are ideal for students who simply need the requisite knowledge, such as when preparing to sit for a licensing or certification exam.
The University of Florida has been offering courses online since 2001. This means they have plenty of experience with ensuring students get the same high quality education online as they do on campus. But what helps make the University of Florida great for working adults is the flexibility. From a rolling admission process to over 100 online undergraduate and graduate degrees offered to the availability of non-degree courses (which do not require formal admission), students can find the right program or class for them. Most courses are fully online and 100% self-paced, which is perfect for working adults. After completing their program, graduates can take full advantage of the University of Florida’s alumni network, which is 330,000+ strong and located in every US state and 135 countries.
Western Kentucky University is perfect for working adults for a variety of reasons. WKU offers a plethora of online education options, including more than 1,700 classes offered online, year-round registration and more than 100 program options to choose from. And for students looking to accelerate their learning, WKU offers online classes that can be completed in as little as 7 weeks. Finally, WKU is extremely affordable for online students, who are only charged the in-state tuition rate.
Dan Frigo is a husband, father, and entrepreneur passionate about personal development and giving back. He owns Frigo Photography LLC, which specializes in wedding photography in and around Boston. He is an online education student.
My favorite thing about taking classes online is the flexibility it allows me to study at my own time. The benefits of taking online classes far outweigh the challenges it presents. As a husband, father and working full-time while also working on a side part-time business of my own, my time is valuable and proper time-management is critical to achieving success with online education. I was able to still spend valuable time with my family while continuing my education around my current lifestyle.
I was surprised about the level of engagement within the courses. Initially I expected the communication between students to be minimal and limited to solely the discussion question within the course. However, in my experience the discussions were far deeper than I expected. This was rewarding, knowing that I was able to connect with students all over the country while participating in the class from home, or the coffee shop or library (another perk of online courses, you can learn from anywhere).
The advisors were very receptive of communications and responded quickly. They were always eager to help and advise. I didn’t take full advantage of all that CSU-Global offered, but believe that they are invested in the success of their students and would be willing to help whenever possible.
In my experience, online education was an effective an appropriate education arrangement. I was able to balance my current work schedule along with my family obligations and still get the level of education that is important for my growth personally and for my career. It is not for everyone because of the self-discipline needed in order to schedule time to study and work on assignments. But if you are able to get over that, then online education may be a great alternative to the typical classroom environment.
Also, keep in mind that the level of verbal communication is limited and you can feel alone in the journey. Therefore, take advantage of any live calls or student groups to get better connected to fellow students and your professors.