According to enrollment reports from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of adult students (age 25 and older) in higher education will eclipse 10,000,000 by the year 2020. Many higher education professionals recognize that this growing population presents its own set of unique challenges and needs—but how can your campus best serve these students?
I attended the Sloan-C Conference in Orlando earlier in October—the event to attend on the topic of online learning. I participated in some excellent sessions to learn more about how campuses are serving nontraditional learners.
During a session presented by Dr. Kristen Betts from Armstrong Atlantic State University on “Engaging and Retaining Today’s Diverse Student Population,” she shared the following statistics about the 17.6 million undergrads now enrolled in higher education:
- 43% attend two-year institutions.
- 37% are enrolled part-time.
- 32% are working full-time.
- 25% are over the age of 30.
- Only 15% attend four-year colleges and live on campus.
Dr. Bett’s also shared a visual indicating that enrollment in online programs jumped from 229,363 to 2,139,714 between 2001 and 2009—an 832 percent increase. (This is data from Eduventures, published in US News & World Report, September 2010.) She also referenced that classes offered exclusively on physical campuses are expected to plummet from 14.4 million in 2010 to just 4.1 million by 2015, according to Ambient Insight.
These and other national shifts in demographics for higher education will likely require shifts in assessment strategies for your campus. In particular, assessing different populations on campus will need to be the norm if campuses want a truly accurate view of student satisfaction and priorities among all students.
Every year, Noel-Levitz compiles national data on the satisfaction and priorities of nontraditional students, and each year I am struck by how satisfied these students are with their educational experience in general. However, there are still areas where institutions can improve the quality of the experience for these students.
This is the second blog in a series about our recently released national reports. My last blog reviewed the factors influencing nontraditional students’ decisions to enroll. This blog takes a closer look at the 2012 National Adult Student Priorities Report and the 2012 National Online Learners Priorities Report. (Download them from the Noel-Levitz Web site.)
How do the satisfaction levels of adult and online learners compare to those of “traditional” students? To answer that question, I looked at data from students who took the Adult Student Priorities Survey and Priorities Survey for Online Learners, then compared their responses to students who completed the Student Satisfaction Inventory, which is taken primarily by traditional-aged students. (Note that some nontraditional students may have completed the Student Satisfaction Inventory in the traditional-student data sets.)
In May, I wrote about the driving factors influencing traditional student enrollment decisions. We now have data available on which enrollment factors are critical to nontraditional students, including online learners and students 25 and older.
Every year, hundreds of campuses administer the Adult Student Priorities Survey™ (ASPS) to their adult undergraduate and graduate students and the Priorities Survey for Online Learners™ (PSOL) to students enrolled in online programs. In addition to the items rated for importance and satisfaction on the general student experience, both the ASPS and PSOL include items that address factors in a student’s decision to enroll (nine items on the ASPS and ten items on the PSOL). The 2012 national research report The Factors Influencing College Choice Among Nontraditional Students focuses on data from more than 5,500 students and 17 public and private four-year institutions that completed the ASPS and 17,000 online learners from 16 institutions that completed the PSOL during just the fall of 2011. There is special emphasis in this report on the different perceptions of undergraduate and graduate students in both data sets.
I was interested in the recent blog about new government projections forecasting dramatic growth in college students 25 years of age and older. While just under 40 percent of college students currently fall in the nontraditional definition of 25 years of age and older, the proportion of students in this category is expected to skew higher as the decade progresses.
These statistics are interesting to note as we review the 2011 National Adult Student Satisfaction and Priorities Report, which reflects that adult students are generally satisfied with their experiences at four-year public and private institutions. As noted in the chart below, 64 percent of adult students are satisfied or very satisfied with their current college experience. This percentage is slightly lower for undergraduate adults and slightly higher for graduate-level adult students. All three categories are higher than the satisfaction percentage we see for traditional students at four-year private (57 percent) and four-year public (54 percent) institutions.
The term “college student” still conjures images of freshly-graduated high school seniors arriving on college campuses. However, the reality is that just under 60 percent of college students currently fall in the traditional 18-24 age range, and the proportion of students 25 and older will continue to skew higher as the decade progresses.
The U.S. Department of Education recently released its Projections of Education Statistics to 2020, examining projected changes in educational enrollment from elementary school through college. The report shows a significant increase in the number of students aged 25 and older expected to enroll in college by 2020: