What Adults Without Degrees Say About Going (Back) to College

A Major Step

What Adults Without Degrees Say About Going (Back) to College

Read the findings from the latest Public Agenda Study. Data collection was conducted by SSRS.

Millions of American adults either have no education beyond high school or have some college but no degree. Helping more adults attain a degree or certificate is crucial for our nation’s competitiveness—as of 2016, we ranked 10th in the world in postsecondary attainment—and for individuals’ economic prospects as well. By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require a degree or certificate.  People with a degree or certificate earn substantially more than those with a high school diploma, are less likely to be unemployed and are more likely to have access to retirement plans and health care.

Although traditional-age students outnumber adult learners in college, the percent of adults enrolling in college continues to grow.  Yet adult students have lower graduation rates than their younger peers. One report found that only about 36 percent of students who enroll in college when they are 20 years or older complete a degree within six years, compared with 59 percent of students who enroll when they are 19 years old or younger.

A number of factors may be at work: Adults going to college usually have other responsibilities, such as work or family, which may limit the hours and energy they can bring to their studies. Financial responsibilities such as rent or mortgage payments make it difficult to afford ever-increasing college tuition. Adults, as opposed to traditional students, do not come directly from high school but have taken years off from studies and may have forgotten academic concepts and habits and need developmental courses.