How to help more adult students graduate on time

State legislation has created more opportunities for nontraditional learners to access college

Enrollment of adult college students has been steadily increasing over the past decade and is projected to continue growing, according to a new report from the Education Commission

Several states have introduced or enacted legislation to accommodate the growing population of adult learners:

  • Tennessee relaxed requirements for the Community College Reconnect Grant to help adult learners receive financial aid when returning to community college and passed HB 2117, which updated requirements to make it easier for adult learners to access and afford higher education.
  • New Jersey, New York, and Washington introduced legislation aimed specifically at adult learners.
  • In 2012, Florida enacted HB 5201, which included the Degree Completion Pilot Program to recruit, regain, and retain adult students. The bill also established the Florida Virtual Campus, offering access to online student and library support services. 

Such initiatives are crucial for adult students, who face unique barriers to college completion. New America Education highlights three notable reasons for lower attainment rates among nontraditional students:

  • Financial aid mechanisms that favor traditional and dependent students;
  • Lower levels of academic preparedness, as many adult learners do not come straight from high school; and
  • Outside obligations extending the time to degree attainment.

With these obstacles in mind, the Education Commission recommends the following considerations for institutions and policymakers to take into account:

  • Create roadmaps to completion;
  • Make courses available in multiple formats and days/times;
  • Mandate student support services such as individual advising and online resources;
  • Offer a variety of ways to earn credit; and
  • Update financial aid policies to be more flexible.

Writing for Education Dive, Jarrett Carter also notes that institutions should partner with large-scale employers to offer training programs for adult students (Carter, Education Dive, 8/4; Education Commission report, 8/3). 

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