Non-Traditional Students Not Graduating at Near the Same Rate as Traditional

Are colleges doing a good job supporting “non-traditional” students? The question can be difficult to answer, as they are not tracked the same as “traditional” students, but some recent studies point to some discouraging data, though perhaps not that surprising.

A study by the American Council on Education found that completion rates among non-first-time students were rather dismal. Only 33.7% of non-first-time students completed their degree, compared with 54.1 percent of first-time students.

A study by the NCES in 2013 found similarly discouraging completion rates among part-time students. After six years, 67.1% of part-time students were no longer enrolled, compare that to 18.9% of exclusively full-time students. 11% of part-time students were still enrolled, and about 21.9% had graduated.

Students enrolled in two-year programs also have lower graduation rates than those in four-year programs. After three years only 31% of students in two-year colleges had graduated according to data from the National Center of Education Statistics.

How Big of a Problem is This, Really?

About two-thirds of students in 2011 were considered “non-traditional”. This lumps together a large pool of students who could be transfer students, part-time, over age 24, a student veteran, attending a two-year school, or some combination of factors.

Colleges who participate in federal aid programs are required by the government to report data on only traditional students, first-time degree seekers under age 24 and attending a four-year public or private nonprofit institution full-time. This means we do not have reliable data on 65% of college students.

These are students who are taking out loans and putting their life on hold to make a worthy effort to complete their education, yet the majority are not able to complete their degree six years later. Many of them turn to for-profit universities who are more likely to cater to their needs, yet these colleges are expensive and sometimes have low completion rates.

The good news is that more and more universities are very aware of this growing trend, and are making efforts to better support a rising number of students who are juggling classes with work, family and adult responsibilities. Non-traditional students value online options, transferability of credits, and classes they can take while working around other obligations. Let’s hope colleges continue to make this a priority in the coming years, as students are likely to demand more and more flexible and affordable options.

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