AZ Snapshot: 25% of college students are 30 years and older

Posted on November 16, 2016 • Category: Education


A new report from National Public Radio (NPR) estimates that college students 30 years and older now represent one quarter of all student enrollment in 2- and 4- year institutions.

VALUE OF A COLLEGE EDUCATION: Shaken by Economic Change, ‘Non-Traditional’ Students Are Becoming the New Normal

nprED, Sept. 25, 2016


Job losses caused by the great recession and a changing economy are causing more adults to return to school for more education and training. They may have lost a job that’s not coming back or feel trapped in low-wage employment with little opportunity for advancement. While this is not a new trend, the rapid growth of online education is giving older students more access.




College Enrollment by Age - All Public-Private Institutions



Why Does Arizona Look Different?
We are one of only a handful of states that have seen enrollment in our three public universities increase significantly over the last few years. The state also offers one of the largest community college systems in the nation as well as a number of large online programs (e.g., University of Phoenix, Grand Canyon University, Argosy University Online and ASU Online).

When the state’s large online providers are eliminated from enrollment numbers, Arizona looks a lot more like the nation, but still ahead of the curve.


College Enrollment by Age - Without Large Online Providers



A More Significant Change
The shift from full-time (FT) to part-time (PT) enrollment in the nation’s 2- and 4-year institutions is having an even greater impact. FT enrollment among 18 to 19-year old students has slowly declined since 1970. They now include only 25% of overall FT enrollment.


Full-Time vs. Part-Time College Enrollment by Age



The Challenge for Higher Education

  • Education institutions are used to serving students in the 18-24 range. Older students may be juggling work and family with school and other responsibilities. Access to classes, counseling and financial services needs to be available at a variety of times, both on-campus and online.
  • The shift from FT to PT enrollment is significant and most likely due to changing demographic and economic factors, including the cost of higher education.


15% Traditional students (18-24) represent 15% of current undergraduates who live on campus at 4-year colleges.
Post-traditional Learners and the Transformation of Postsecondary Education: A Manifesto for College Leaders  
Louis Soares, American Council on Education, March 15, 2016