A woman works at home as she is pursuing higher education.

What’s keeping working adults from pursuing higher education?

Pursuing higher education becomes more complicated when family and work obligations play a role

When it comes to the benefits related to higher education, 90 percent say it is helpful in providing a better life for their children. Despite this, only 45 percent of working adults say they would be likely to go back to school considering the realistic barriers in their life.

When asked to identify those barriers, 69 percent say the financial investment and 65 percent say debt. Close behind were classes that interfere with work and life (63 percent) and the workload required (59 percent). Breaking down these barriers to higher education could lead to greater academic achievement for today’s adult learners. With no barriers in place, 80 percent of working adults say they would be very/somewhat likely to pursue more education.

“A significant population of today’s college students is working adults returning to school and many possess at least one ‘nontraditional’ characteristic. They need an education that fits their life, not the other way around,” says Dr. John Woods, chief academic officer and provost at University of Phoenix. “As the student demographic changes, it is imperative that educational institutions offer curriculum in a format and modality that fit their needs. Institutions that help break down barriers to pursuing education could help encourage more working adults to pursue their educational dreams.”

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Among those working adults who say they are going to or plan to go back to school, nearly half (49 percent) of respondents say they plan to enroll at an institution offering online programs. This decision could be influenced, in part, because of the flexibility online programs offer that helps overcome some of the barriers to education.

This plays into the criteria working adults seek from higher education providers. Those who plan to go back, but haven’t yet, want flexible scheduling around work and family (52 percent), financial aid support (48 percent), and the ability to take one or two classes at a time, instead of a full course load (38 percent).

“We’re seeing a rise in popularity and acceptance of universities offering online programs. While this is great for adult learners looking to return to school to enhance their education, it’s important that they make the distinction between online programs and those specifically built for working adults,” Woods says.

Laura Ascione

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