A study on the value and feasibility of pursuing higher education as an adult.
In the 19th century, Horace Mann said, ““Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer.” The new nationwide Degrees of Opportunity study shows that 21st-century Americans overwhelmingly agree that education is a powerful means of advancement, both personally and professionally.
Access to this “great equalizer” has evolved considerably since Horace Mann's day, when higher education was largely the province of affluent young white men. Throughout the 20th century, higher education became far more accessible to women and people of all races and socioeconomic conditions.
But the face of higher education is changing still. Today, the typical college student is no longer an 18- to 22-year-old living and studying full-time on a college campus. Only about 16 percent of those pursuing higher education in the United States now fit that mold1. A larger — and growing — number are adults age 25 and older. Since 1970, the number of adults age 25 and older enrolled in college has nearly tripled — from 2.4 million to an estimated 6.7 million2, accounting for about 38 percent of the 17.6 million students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in 20063.
Adults face considerable obstacles when returning to school. These include balancing commitments to work, family, and community while attending school, and providing for their families while covering the cost of education, which has increased by more than 200 percent since 1980, compared to an 80 increase in the Consumer Price Index4. Still, millions of American adults make these sacrifices every year because they believe in the value of education and feel confident in the return on their investment, whether it be in the form of better jobs, higher pay, more fulfilling work, or a sense of personal accomplishment.
The Degrees of Opportunity study gives new insight into the views of Americans age 25 and older on the value, motivation, and feasibility of pursuing higher education as adults. It was sponsored by Capella University as part of its mission to increase access to higher education for adults and to offer high-quality degree programs that meet the needs of adult students.
1 Stokes, P.J. (2006). Hidden in plain sight: Adult learners forge a new tradition in higher education. Washington, DC: Department of Education, Commission on the Future of Higher Education.
2 National Center for Education Statistics (2004). Total fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions, by attendance status, age, and sex: Selected years, 1970 to 2014. Digest of Education Statistics, 2004. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d04/tables/dt04_173.asp
3 U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2007.
4 Boehner, J.A. & McKeon, H.P. (2003). The college cost crisis: A Congressional analysis of college costs and implications for America’s higher education system. Washington, DC: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Education and the Workforce.