Research

Degree and College Choice Motivations Vary between Traditional, Non-Traditional Students

While the most common reason non-traditional students pursue a bachelor's degree is to get a better job (chosen by 54 percent of those individuals), for traditional students, the top reason is because it's the "next logical step," (specified by 62 percent). While more non-traditional students choose their institution based on scheduling flexibility (24 percent), traditional students are drawn by the overall reputation of the institution (53 percent).

The results surfaced in a survey done on behalf of Strayer University, a private, for-profit institution with about 41,000 students. Handled by the U.S. News & World Report marketing and business intelligence teams, the survey queried 1,000 adults in August and September 2016, who were grouped into two categories. "Traditional" students were those respondents who at some point in their lives had pursued a bachelor's degree while under the age of 25 and claimed as a dependent on somebody else's tax return during their undergraduate years. "Non-traditional" students were those individuals who didn't fit that definition; they may have received a GED or equivalent; they were employed full-time — at least 35 hours or more — while in school; they went after their credits on a part-time basis; and/or they were 25 or older when they were last enrolled or earned their degree. Among the survey participants, 32 percent were defined as non-traditional; 14 percent were sorted as traditional; the remainder didn't pursue further education after high school.

The five primary reasons non-traditional respondents stated for pursuing higher education were:

  • To get a better job (54 percent);
  • Because it was the next logical step (45 percent);
  • They viewed it as a "stepping stone" to future education (42 percent);
  • They wanted to study a topic they were interested in (35 percent); and
  • They wanted to prove to themselves they "could do it" (27 percent).

For traditional students, the motivations differed:

  • It was the next logical step (62 percent);
  • To get a job (49 percent);
  • To study a topic they were interested in or to get a better job (41 percent);
  • Because their family wanted them to get a degree (30 percent).

Also worth noting: While four in 10 non-traditional students said they pursued a bachelor's degree to advance at their current job, only 3 in 100 traditional students said the same. It must be noted, the survey authors pointed out, that most non-traditional students were already employed in full-time jobs (59 percent compared to 43 percent of traditional students).

Regarding scheduling flexibility, non-traditional students were more likely to take evening and weekend classes and to take at least 25 percent of courses online.

"Earning a degree is a competing priority, as these students also juggle full-time jobs, family and personal commitments," said Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer Education, which operates the university, in a statement. "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."

More complete findings from the survey are available on the U.S. News & World Report website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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