Higher education attainment is linked to greater earnings potential and lower unemployment rates, but there are still factors at play that keep today’s working adults from pursuing higher education.
Today, less than one-third of U.S. adults ages 25 or older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and a new University of Phoenix survey shows that while many U.S. working adults would like to go back to school and believe that it can be helpful in providing a better life for their family, time and financial barriers are holding them back from pursuing higher education.
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According to the survey, only 36 percent of U.S. working adults are very satisfied with their current level of education and nearly seven in 10 (68 percent) want to pursue more.
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.