What do students want from college? That depends.

Nontraditional students are more concerned with a flexible college experience

Reasons for pursuing a bachelor's degree vary significantly by traditional and nontraditional students, according to a new survey from U.S. News & World Report and Strayer University

The survey polled 1,000 adults grouped into two categories: traditional and non-traditional students.

Traditional students were defined as those who had pursued a bachelor's degree at some point while under the age of 25 and were claimed as a dependent on someone else's tax return during the course of their undergraduate study.

Nontraditional students, meanwhile:

  • May have received a GED or equivalent credentials;
  • Were employed full-time while in school;
  • Pursued credits on a part-time basis; and/or
  • Were at least age 25 when they last enrolled or earned their degree.

Thirty-two percent of survey participants were defined as nontraditional, compared with 14% defined as traditional. The rest of the participants did not pursue postsecondary education. 

The top five reasons nontraditional students pursued a bachelor's degree were:

  • To get a better job (54%);
  • It was the next logical step (45%);
  • It was a stepping stone to future education (42%);
  • To study a topic of interest (35%); and
  • To prove that they could do it (27%).

The top five reasons traditional students pursued a bachelor's degree were:

  • It was the next logical step (62%);
  • To get a job (49%);
  • To study a topic of interest (41%);
  • To get a better job (41%); and
  • Because their families wanted them to (30%). 

Nontraditional student success matters

When choosing an institution, traditional students were more likely to care about:

  • Overall reputation (53%);
  • Quality of faculty (33%);
  • Campus aesthetics (24%); and
  • Quality of social life (22%).

Nontraditional students were more likely to care about:

  • Scheduling flexibility (24%);
  • Availability of online courses (12%); and
  • Tutoring services (5%).

Increased flexibility would help nontraditional students on the path to degree completion, the report states.

"Earning a degree is a competing priority, as these students also juggle full-time jobs, family and personal commitments," said Strayer Education CEO Karl McDonnell. "Colleges and universities must embrace online learning and offer greater affordability and scheduling flexibility in order to meet the diverse needs of this growing student population."

"Career and learning outcomes are of growing importance to all students, but nontraditional students—given their focus on professional progression—are increasingly looking for evidence of the tangible benefits of the program offering," says Katie Mangan, senior consultant at EAB. "Further, nontraditional students typically expect more hands on student services tailored to their unique needs, hence the emphasis on scheduling flexibility and course availability" (Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 12/2; U.S. News & World Report/Strayer University report, accessed 12/5). 

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