The number of college students who are 25 years or older continues to grow, and this number is expected to outpace younger students in the coming years. The National Center for Education Statistics predicts that adult students will actually become the new majority. Between 2012 and 2013, students younger than 25 increased by 12 percent, whereas students older than 25 jumped ahead by 20 percent.

Despite the growing norm of this population, adult learners can feel apprehensive about going back to school to earn a new degree or train for a career change. The following five fears often prevent many adult learners from returning to or finishing school. Help adult learners overcome their reservations and put their career goals into action.


Education can be expensive upfront, but it's also a long-term investment toward a higher salary and the potential for a promotion. Stress how completing college provides professional opportunities and higher economic returns over time. Working for an educational institution or a company with a tuition reimbursement program can also help mitigate the costs of college. Ease financial concerns with the following:

  • Educate them on tuition assistance options: Adult students may believe tuition assistance is only available to traditional undergrads. Offer brochures, help lines and information on your website that educates them on the available tuition assistance options.
  • Point them in the direction of financial planning tools: Financial stress can cause students to second guess going back to school. Encourage financial planning by providing downloadable worksheets that enable students to pre-plan and budget the cost of attendance.
  • Debt management: Be sure to provide student aid resources on your website. Students will have questions about repayment, interest and types of loans. Resources such as the Federal Student Aid Department offer tools such as repayment calculators to alleviate

Time Commitment

With a full-time job, a family to support and other obligations, the thought of finding time for school can seem impossible. How can attending class, studying and completing coursework fit into an already jam-packed schedule? Adult students need to replace these feelings of intimidation and concern with support and commitment. A partner may need to take on extra responsibilities at home for the adult student in the family to focus more time on school, and leisure activities may get sacrificed during this time.

Promote online and blended learning programs to provide adult learners with more flexibility and opportunities for independent learning. Accelerated academic programs and curriculum can also help adult learners expedite the time requirement.


Adult students may dread the thought of returning to a campus dominated by younger, more "traditional" students. Adult learners may think they're the minority, but they're actually a part of a rising group. "Only a fraction of the nation's 18 million undergraduates are traditional students," states The Wall Street Journal. According to the consulting firm Stamats, only about 16 percent of college students fit the "traditional" mold, and according to the 2010 report "Success for Adult Students" published by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, more than 47 percent of students enrolled in higher ed institutions were age 25 or older. The nontraditional student population is transforming into the new traditional, and adult learners can embrace this fact.

Your adult students may enroll in online classes for a more comfortable and independent learning environment, but make sure you convey that learning and interacting with energetic and enthusiastic younger students can be invigorating and inspiring.

Rigid Classroom Setting

Many students considering the career college route wonder how they will fare going back to a rigid classroom environment. Adult learners will be pleased to know today's classroom landscape isn't what they remember it to be. As the enhanced digital connections and cutting-edge technologies advanced, the standard classroom has also evolved to a more blended-style environment.

Not only are classrooms providing more flexibility, classwork has also evolved to better fit the needs of adult students. For instance, career colleges, vocational training and postsecondary schools also offer more advanced programs with an emphasis on specialized training to meet the needs of the local workforce. Many offer online, in-classroom or blended academic programs that provide a more intimate, personalized and specialized learning environment. As a result, adult learners can be better prepared and more qualified for a specific occupation.


Many adult learners return to school as non-completers. Perhaps they had to abandon their education to work full-time or support a family, but they never lost sight of their academic ambitions. Deciding to return to school takes courage, yet low self-confidence, recollections of former failures or the unfamiliarity of attending college may inhibit adult learners from following through with their decision.

Help students combat these insecurities by fostering a personalized learning community of like-minded learners who share similar experiences and can serve as a support system to one another. Also, ensure instructors acknowledge students' accomplishments to build their confidence and show that someone believes in and is proud of their ability to overcome challenges and achieve goals.


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Resources: Photo Credit (1) Adult and Continuing Education: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (2) National Center for Educational Statistics: Fast Facts (3) Number of the Week: 'Non-Traditional' Students Are Majority on College Campuses (4) Success for Adult Students