“Am I too old to go to college?” I constantly hear this question from online students who seem to think that just because they are not recent high school graduates still living with mom and dad that they may not belong in college. The reality is that a large number of students today are not in their late teens and starting out on their postsecondary education and careers. In fact, it’s safe to say that older adults will most likely find peers in any college course, especially online.
So the answer is: You are never too old to go to college. In fact, as an older student, you are not only in good company, there are also many benefits to be had by your involvement.
It may surprise you to learn that even a decade ago, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) announced that more than 73% of college students were not the traditional 18-22-year-old, fresh-out-of-high-school traditional attendees many tend to assume populate postsecondary classrooms (NPR, “Typical College Student No Longer So Typical,” 10 August, 2010). Although this includes students within this younger age group who may be non-traditional in other ways (e.g., single parents or first-generation students), the largest portion of this percentage consists of students 25 and older.
According to the NCES,
• In 2011, out of 21.6 million college students in the United States, 14.9% were ages 25-29; 8.7% were ages 30-34; and 18.2% were 35 or older.
• On average, therefore, 41.8% of the students—nearly one-half—are not the traditionally perceived, fresh out of high school age range of 18-22.
• Between 2000 and 2010, the enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 34%. Enrollment of students 25 and over rose 42% during the same period.
• From 2010 to 2020, NCES projects a rise of 11% in enrollments of students under 25, and a rise of 20% in enrollments of students 25 and over. This should result in about 44.5% of students being over 25-years-old.
Furthermore, The Chronicle of Higher Education not only concurred with the percentages provided by the NCES, but it also shared some additional information about non-traditionally aged college students. In 2007-2008, they were mostly low-income and attending community college, career, or “for-profit” institutions, which offer certificates, associate, and/or bachelor’s degrees (10 December, 2010).
Finally, narrowing the statistics specifically to online student demographics provides more insights into who older students are. Classes and Careers compiled the following information for online students in the U.S.:
• The average age is 34.
• 28.8% are ages 24-29, and 34.5% are 30-years-old or more, which totals to 63.3% of online students being 24 or older.
• 74.3% make less than $40,000 annually.
• 81% are working at the time they enroll.
• 32% receive grants, 38% have employer assistance, and 79% have taken out student loans.
• 82% are undergraduates, 14% are in graduate school, and 4% are pursuing other postsecondary options (e.g., a certificate or associate’s degree).
The bottom line is that you are never too old to go to college. In fact, if you are over the age of 22, chances are good you will find others within your age group in college classes, especially if you take them online.
• Attending college at mid-career or middle age can take your career into a new direction that will rejuvenate you and keep you energized for some time to come. For example, you may be able to switch into a new job or position that would provide new challenges, more opportunities related to your interests, and even more income.
• Enrolling in online classes may do more than just help you develop and improve your technical skills to advance your career. It may also come in handy personally as you learn to communicate in the virtual world via email, social media, and other such sites; therefore, expanding your social network. Recently, I have also seen couples taking classes and graduating together.
• Paying for college may be easier as over 60% of accredited schools offer discounts on tuition including free tuition for senior citizens. Even if you don’t want to earn a degree, isn’t there a subject you’ve always wanted to learn more about? I have had senior citizens who took my art history or literature classes for the simple joy of learning about a subject of interest.
• Meeting others and staying engaged in an intellectual pursuit can help you stay socially active and healthy. You may even live longer!
What better way to share this built up treasure than to attend classes and make connections between our experiences and course content? For example, most Millennials—those born after 1980—value the wisdom of their elders, and they need guidance to learn about the world and how to succeed on a global level ( “How to Prepare Students for the Global Economy and Workforce,” 24 September, 2012). I have seen so many times in both face-to-face and online courses how beneficial it is to have some older students mentoring younger ones and how much both benefit from the interaction.
Are you too old to go to college? No, any age is the perfect time to further your education. In fact, being an older student has so many benefits, it may be more fitting to ask: Why would you not go to college?
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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