The world of higher education is in a period of significant transition: today’s post-secondary students are older and are concurrently balancing school demands with jobs and families. With workforce experience, they are entering (and returning to) college with expectations for skill-based career training. Demand for online coursework and credentialing, certification programs, and continuing education courses is skyrocketing among both traditional and non-traditional students. This paper outlines four data-substantiated trends that will help institutions of higher learning adapt to the needs of a diverse prospective student population.
The postsecondary landscape has changed so much in recent years that it is almost unrecognizable. As recently the 1990s, the typical college student was 19 years old, studying full time and living on campus at a four-year university. Now, the average 21st-century student studies part time, works full time, and has children and a decade in the workforce. With the rise of online degrees and skill-specific certification programs, the world of higher education is changing rapidly.
Consider a few statistics: college enrollment among people ages 25 through 44 increased by 51% between 1991 and 2011, even though U.S. population growth remained essentially stagnant for that age group during the same period. More than one of every three undergraduates today are older than 25 years old. And, one quarter of all students are now looking to earn credentials entirely or mostly online.
This and other compelling data reveal four trends that are transforming the landscape of higher education: student demographics, job-related goals, online education, and certificate programs.
 Eduventures (2012). The Adult Higher Education Consumer 2012. Retrieved from: https://www.usnews.com/ pubfiles/the_adult_higher_education_consumer_2012.pdf
 Lumina Foundation. Today’s student. Retried from: https://www.luminafoundation.org/todays-student-statistics
 Hagelskamp, Carolin, David Schleifer, and Christopher DiStasi (2013). Is College Worth It for Me? Public Agenda. Retrieved from: https://www.publicagenda.org/files/IsCollegeWorthItForMe_PublicAgenda_2013.pdf