• September 1, 2015

To Reach Obama's 2020 Goal, Colleges Need to Support Adult Students, Panelists Say

Many more adults will need to enroll in college for the United States to meet President Obama's goal of having the world's largest share of college graduates by 2020, government officials and higher-education experts said at a panel discussion on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

The panelists encouraged colleges to take nontraditional students' needs into consideration and urged lawmakers to replicate and expand successful programs that support adult students.

The United States cannot attain the president's goal if people focus only on efforts, by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others, to improve elementary and secondary education, Jane Oates, assistant secretary for employment and training at the Labor Department, said at the panel, which was held by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

The percentage of 25- to 49-year-olds without college degrees who are enrolled in college has been declining slightly since 1990, when 8.1 percent of such adults were pursuing a degree, said Patrick J. Kelly, a senior associate at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems. Only 6.5 percent of that group are now enrolled in college.

Panelists pointed to the federal TRIO programs for disadvantaged students as examples of efforts that have succeeded in getting more students to enroll in college and persist toward a degree. The participants in Tuesday's event said programs like those need to be sustained and expanded.

Twenty-one percent of low-income students who receive Pell Grants with no support from other federal student-service programs complete a bachelor's degree in six years, said U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, a Democrat from Wisconsin, while 31 percent of Pell Grant recipients who also receive support from a TRIO program complete their degrees in the same time frame.

To graduate more adult students, colleges must take their needs and lifestyles into account, panelists said. Adult college students, the panelists added, usually do not live in dorms or engage in campus life as younger undergraduates do, so they often need different services or have different goals than do their younger counterparts. To help adults, colleges should provide grants that cover more than the cost of tuition, schedule classes more flexibly, including on nights and weekends, and provide a clear and direct path to a degree, Mr. Kelly said.

"An 18-year-old often cares more about a football team than they do about getting a job," Ms. Oates said, adding that colleges need to do more to communicate with employers to make adults' course work relevant to skills needed for jobs. Degree-granting programs for adults should also have a clear duration, she said.

"They have to see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said.


1. jffoster - January 19, 2010 at 07:14 pm

Well, of course, we are required to meet the President's goals. We'll redouble our efforts.

Or maybe not.

2. bhughes316 - January 20, 2010 at 05:14 am

This is putting the cart before the horse. Create jobs, then train people to fill those jobs. If we are clear about where the jobs will be in 10 years, people will get the training they need.

3. swish - January 20, 2010 at 09:51 am

What exactly is the age of majority, now?

4. tlgriffith18 - January 20, 2010 at 11:19 am

Interesting. NCES indicates the number of adult learners will increase signficantly over the next 8-10 years.

As for getting these adults to enroll - my favorite mutilated expression is "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him THINK."

5. reggie_ - January 20, 2010 at 11:45 am

The TRIO programs, particularly EOC and Veteran's Upward Bound, represent the last best chance for adults, civilians and veterans, to navigate the college application process and learn the skills to obtain certificates and degrees and jobs.

6. bnelso - January 20, 2010 at 05:49 pm

Watch out, you could be attending classes with your parents! There has been a growing number of older-than-average students for the past five years. Some schools are beginning to recognize the need to change the way they function to include these older students. I started my college education after leaving a 10+ year abusive marriage to change my life. I was 47 at the time. I knew absolutely nothing about how the college system functioned, and EVERYONE took it for granted that I did. I met older-than-average students all along the way, including a woman who was 70+ years going to get her masters' in Fashion in Rome! At the perfect age of 53 years I received my MFA from Chicago and am now working as an artist, writer, and teacher. It is possible to realize your dreams. I am still dreaming--- Applying for a PhD in film philosophy. Obama's right on track with this one.

7. 11167997 - January 22, 2010 at 03:37 pm

So 8.1 percent of the 25-49 year-olds were enrolled in 1990 versus only 6.5 percent in (the article doesn't say, but assume it's 2008). Did anyone with an IQ above room temperature ask by what percentage the denominator---i.e., the number of 25-49 year olds---rose during this period, and whether that might have anything to do with a falling percentage? It doesn't take more than 4th grade math to figure it out.


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