A study on the value and feasibility of pursuing higher education as an adult.
Degrees of Opportunity: Barriers that may make it challenging to return to school as an adult
Although more than half of adults surveyed in the Degrees of Opportunity study would like more education, only one-third of that group said they would “probably pursue this.” The educational obstacles adults identified were different than those typically associated with students attending college right after high school.
Among adults who want more education, the top five challenges/barriers to pursuing higher education relate to time and money:
- Managing all of my other commitments and still finding time for school (perceived as a barrier by 73% of respondents).
- Finding the money to pay for school (70%).
- Providing for myself/family while in school (62%).
- Making a commitment for the length of time it takes to complete a degree (61%).
- Attending classes regularly (50%).
Adults are less worried by the concerns we typically associate with prospective college students fresh out of high school, such as:
- Finding a school or program that matches my needs and interests (perceived as a barrier to pursuing additional education by 34% of adults).
- Overcoming the fear of taking a risk and maybe not succeeding (33%).
- Deciding what subject to study or what degree to pursue (28%).
- Being able to learn the material and do well in class (26%).
Adults who had already gone back to school confirm that time and money were indeed the greatest obstacles, but in general, the levels of concern are lower than for those who have not had the experience of going back to school.
- Managing all of my other commitments and still finding time for school (considered “somewhat” or “very” difficult by 63% of those who have gone back to school).
- Finding the money to pay for school (58%).
- Providing for myself/family while in school (53%).
Of those who had gone back to school, most had overcome or were overcoming any obstacles to completing their educational goal.
- Nearly three out of four adults who returned to school have either completed their educational program or are still actively working to do so.
- Only 1 in 5 does not plan to complete their program.
Among those who would like additional education, those with college and post-graduate degrees are most confident in their ability to navigate the college admissions process.
- Applying for financial aid is the area of lowest confidence for would-be adult students.
Although many people want to go back to school, the thought of returning to school generates very mixed emotions — hopeful, nervous, excited, worried, confident, determined, energized.
- Those without a bachelor's degree are significantly more likely to feel nervous (41%) when they think about going back to school.
In general, the issues adults face when returning to school are different from those faced by students enrolling soon after high school. Doubts about choosing the right school and selecting the right degree program and doing well in college — concerns we would typically associate with younger students — rank relatively low among adults, who are more concerned about finding time for school amidst work, family and other commitments, and finding the money for school while also providing for themselves and their families.
Adults who want to return to school seem to have a realistic picture of the obstacles they will likely face. Their top-ranked barriers to getting more education are the same as those who have already returned to school as an adult — time and money.
For adults who want to return to school, it is important to recognize that while time management and financial obstacles do exist, these barriers are surmountable. Strategies include choosing an educational program geared to the time management needs of adult students, and pursuing the numerous financial aid options available to adults.