Take a moment to draw a mental image of a ‘typical’ college student. How old is this person? What does an ordinary day look like in terms of school and work?
If you’re like most people, your mind immediately jumped to the so-called conventional college student between the ages of 18 and 22. This person lives on or near campus and attends most classes in person. Outside of academics, this stereotypical student participates in extracurricular activities and maybe holds down a part-time job to earn a little extra spending money.
This may describe a significant subset of the college population, but it by no means represents the only—or even the standard—experience. In fact, there is no typical college trajectory. The sooner we abandon the notion of a ‘normal’ student, the better.
Students often return to school after a significant break or begin their academic careers after the age of 25. Many work full-time while also juggling full-time coursework. Often, they boast a wealth of experience in the work world or as veterans. Adult learning classes allow them to build on this experience and, ultimately, secure the credentials needed to advance in their already impressive careers.
Unfortunately, today’s diverse array of students face a variety of challenges above and beyond those experienced by younger college attendees. From busy work schedules to family demands, numerous roadblocks prevent adults from seeking higher education. Many of these concerns can be addressed via adult learning online, which allows a greater variety of students to harness the power of postsecondary academia.
Online learning can be an amazing option, but it’s not right for everyone. Before you take on this challenge, it’s important that you understand what, exactly, it entails—and what you stand to gain. The following are among the most notable benefits of online learning for adults:
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1. Flexible Scheduling
Many students struggle to make time for class while working full-time jobs and raising families. Scheduling proves particularly complicated when most classes take place on campus and during the day. With online programs, however, adult students need not worry about taking time off from work or coordinating childcare. Their classrooms and course materials are always accessible from the comfort of home.
Online courses allow students to attend lectures, participate in digital discussions, and study when and where they see fit. Many dive into coursework after the evening commute. Others dedicate much of their learning to the weekend. Still others find time to tackle assignments during the day as their children nap or leave for their own academic adventures.
Ultimately, it matters little when online college students take class. As long as they make an effort to master course material, they can make progress towards their ultimate goal of graduating.
2. Significant Savings
College may be a worthwhile investment, but many aspiring students fail to enroll because they assume they cannot afford tuition. These students are often entirely unaware of the variety of affordable programs and scholarship opportunities available. With the right approach, adult students can handle the short-term expenses—especially in the interest of making such a valuable long-term investment.
Online education, in particular, makes it possible to attend college while maintaining a strict budget. This approach eliminates many of the expenses associated with the on-campus college experience. For example, online students need not worry about covering the cost of housing on or near campus. Likewise, online learning eliminates transportation costs such as gas, vehicle maintenance, and parking fees. Students with families don’t need to seek out childcare or babysitting—and those with full-time jobs can maintain their busy work schedules.
3. Greater Likelihood of Graduation
From financial matters to scheduling concerns, a variety of roadblocks keep hardworking adult students from completing their degrees. Fear of not finishing prevents many from enrolling in the first place. With online learning, however, such worries are unwarranted.
Online colleges for adults address many of the top challenges that make it difficult for on-campus students to make noteworthy progress towards graduation. By freeing students of top sources of stress, virtual programs help digital learners focus exclusively on academia.
Adult students appreciate the extensive support they receive throughout the duration of their college careers. While many never meet their instructors face-to-face, they still manage to build strong relationships. Likewise, many build even closer connections with their online peers than they would in a traditional class setting. After all, online programs tend to attract students who share similar circumstances. Many find great solace and inspiration in their fellow students, who hold a unique ability to motivate when the going gets tough.
The prevalence of online learning may account for recent rises in graduation rates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2019 report on The Condition of Education, 62 percent of students who began seeking bachelor’s degrees at four-year institutions completed their degrees within six years. This represents a notable improvement, as just 58 percent of students who enrolled in 2004 graduated by 2010.
4. Improved Career Outcomes
Often, adults’ reluctance to enroll in college stems from the success they’ve already achieved in their respective careers. Many simply assume that they don’t need to attend college because they’ve already obtained full-time jobs. Unfortunately, a lack of degree may ultimately hold these individuals back. Not only is a bachelor’s degree vital to advancement in a variety of careers, it takes on greater importance during economic downturns, when a larger volume of applicants may battle over limited job openings.
It’s no secret that degrees deliver higher lifetime earnings. In the short-term, however, some college programs can prompt notable career challenges, as working students may struggle to schedule classes around their already packed schedules. Thankfully, online programs allow students to cover material at their own pace.
Freed of the burdens that keep many students from graduating, adult learners can expect to see quick improvements in wages upon graduating. Data from the aforementioned Condition of Education report indicates that the average adult with a bachelor’s degree earns an annual $51,800, versus just $32,000 for those with high school diplomas but no college credentials.
Beyond scheduling convenience, online coursework can deliver immediate benefits in the form of actionable insights. Students often seek degrees related to the industries in which they already work. In such cases, college attendees can promptly apply their latest academic discoveries on the job. This combination of theoretical knowledge and practical application helps students cement new concepts, thereby increasing their likelihood of retaining such information in years to come.
Online colleges for adults provide a myriad of benefits, both on a personal and professional level. It’s no wonder, then, that RNL’s 2019 National Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report reveals a satisfaction rate of 72 percent among online learners. If these results are any indication, online learning makes the challenges of higher education worth tackling well into adulthood. With the flexibility of a digital program and the support of loved ones, fellow students, and instructors alike, it’s possible for adults from all walks of life to complete this important milestone, no matter their age.