Is College Worth it for Me? How Adult Students Without Degrees Think About Going (Back) to School

By Betsy Prueter

Public Agenda recently released results from a national survey of adult prospective college students (defined as 18-55 year olds who do not hold an associate’s or bachelor’s degree) examining their expectations and attitudes about potentially earning a postsecondary credential. Most survey respondents were concerned primarily about the cost of college and their ability to balance school with family life.

Among the report’s findings: – When asked about the possibility of returning to school, survey respondents expressed the most concern about paying for college and balancing school with family responsibilities. – 67% of adults worry about taking on too much debt and balancing school, work, and family. Other notable concerns were being able to keep up academically, staying motivated and focused on school work, and being able to graduate on time – Only 30% say they are worried about dropping out and only 20% worry about fitting in with other students. – In general, younger adults (18-24 years old) were more concerned than older adults (25-55 years old) about all of the above. – Adult prospective college students reported looking for certain things in a college experience: – 76% indicated that having access to knowledgeable instructors was a top priority. – 74% indicated that affordability was a top priority. – 70% indicated that workforce development was a top priority – Just over 50% indicated that location and reputation were important, but less than one quarter indicated that class size and social activities were a priority. – Only 12% indicated that other students their age was a priority. – According to the report, adults are attracted to schools that focus on job placement (65%), help with financial aid applications (63%), and instructors who have field experience (62%). – 67% of younger adults say it is very likely they will enroll in college in the next two years, compared to 42% of older adults. Younger adults also intended to enroll full time at higher rates than older adults. – Over 70% of both younger and older adults reported using friends, family, or colleagues in their college search. – In general, adult prospective students were most likely to learn about college from friends and family, television commercials or other ads, and individual school websites. – Over 70% of both younger and older adults reported using friends, family, or colleagues in their college search. They are least likely to use an interactive website like the College Scorecard (only 18% reported using such a website). – Most adult prospective students are confident they can get the information and advice they need to make the right decision about which college to attend. However, survey results show that less than half of adult students felt graduation rates or job placement rates were essential pieces of information. – Most adults expect they will need to take a remedial class (58% say it is somewhat likely or very likely). – The majority of adult students want to take at least some classes online (73%), while 37% say it is essential that their school offer online courses. However, 40% expect that employers will not value online degrees as traditional programs.