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Adults with No College Experience Far Less Likely to Want More Education

Among adult learners, people with no college experience at all are far less likely to want to return to school — even if time or money were no object. Even those individuals with an associate degree were three times more likely to agree in theory that they'd like to get more education (73 percent versus 20 percent). In a survey recently published by higher ed research firm Eduventures, researchers found that by the age of 22, "the absence of any postsecondary credential or prior enrollment serves as a formidable barrier for this population."

Among those adults who definitely planned to get more education, the older the candidate the more tepid the commitment. While three in 10 respondents who were 22 to 24 years old said they were committed to enrolling over the next 36 months, by the time the candidate was 45 to 54 years old, the share dropped to one in 10, and for 55- to 64-year-olds, it was half that.

The survey queried more than 4,000 prospective adult learners across all demographic categories who had expressed at least some interest in education beyond high school. The survey was intended to examine adult learners' goals and expectations and their attitudes toward online and on-campus learning and related topics.

Non-career objectives were just as important overall as career goals. The top "expectation" for more education was satisfying "intellectual curiosity," designated by 60 percent of respondents, compared to 59 percent of people who chose earning "more money." Adult learners were little concerned about how artificial intelligence or other innovations on the job might affect them; just 10 percent said "staying ahead of automation" was important.

Career and non-career goals for college education among adult learners

Career and non-career goals for college education among adult learners. Source: "Eduventures 2020 Adult Prospect Research Report" from Eduventures

Micromasters programs, massive open online courses and boot camps didn't generate much support among adult learners; just 5 percent of all prospects said they would prefer "alternative education programs" such as these.

The learning experiences that were most compelling to adult learners were "faculty interaction," followed by "student interaction" — two preferences that may be seen, the report stated, "as out-of-step with efforts to make higher education more streamlined and individualized." Real-world experiences provided by internships and project collaboration appeared near the bottom of the list in terms of interest level.

Among program features, "affordable tuition" led the way, then "custom programming," "evidence of program quality" and "self-paced options."

The report noted that adult preferences in delivery mode "have been largely stable"; about 20 percent of survey respondents were most interested in fully online programs, while 15 percent showed the most interest in fully on-campus; the remainder chose some combination of the two. And even as online programming "has increased in number and range," the "preference spread" hasn't really shifted.

"Numerous innovations" in college education have introduced convenience, affordability and value, the report concluded; however, "schools still have their work cut out" to "appeal to adults in more nuanced and personal ways."

More complete results have been made available to Encoura subscribers. The results were also covered in a blog article on the Eduventures website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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