Career shifts, finances and lifestyle changes are a few reasons that adults are returning to college. Some adults also return to college in order to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees, others to earn certifications and postsecondary diplomas at the request of their employers. If adults have been away from college for five or more years, they may benefit from learning how to best prepare to connect with their professors and successfully complete classroom or distance learning courses.

Supporting Students Who Return to College

As reported by the National Center for Education Statistics, 38 percent of students attending college in 2007 were 25 years or older. These students may be single parents or married with two or more children. They might also work full-time jobs, making it mostly feasible for them to attend colleges and universities part-time.

Not only must accredited colleges and universities develop systems, policies and practices that support adult continuing education students, individual students must also develop habits and practices that allow them to effectively balance school, work and family. An option open to students returning to college, allowing them to maintain school, work and life balance, is distance learning.

To succeed at distance learning courses adults must practice strong self-discipline as postsecondary schools generally require them to complete examinations at the same time as students enrolling in classroom programs. Additional tools needed to enroll in and complete distance learning programs include a reliable computer, telephone and video so students can participate in web seminars and conference calls as well as watch recorded classroom sessions. Before enrolling in distance learning programs, students are encouraged to contact their academic advisor or admissions counselor and find out the specific computer hardware and software requirements needed to participate in the programs.

To save time and money, students returning to college can also take College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests to earn college credits for relevant working experience. This is an option students may overlook, but are encouraged to consider taking advantage of, particularly students who have two or more years of working experience. According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities Winter 2011 Peer Review “Research on Adult Learners: Supporting the Needs of a Student Population that is No Longer Traditional” article, approximately 87 percent of colleges and universities participating in the 2006 Council on Adult Experiential Learning (CAEL) study accepted CLEP credits. Furthermore, 84 percent of the postsecondary schools accepted Advanced Placement credits. Serving in the military benefitted returning college students as well; 70 percent of the responding colleges and universities accepted military or corporate training when reviewing college credits.

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Paying for College While Working

Money to pay for college for adult students can come from a variety of sources, including scholarships, grants, student loans and employer tuition reimbursement programs. Policies for tuition reimbursement programs vary by employers. However, employers generally require employees enrolled in college to maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average (GPA); employers might also require employees to enroll in courses that are similar in content to the types of jobs they work. For example, a marketing specialist might have to major in advertising or marketing college programs to qualify for reimbursement.

As the numbers of students returning to college increase it’s important that colleges and universities are designed with systems that support this growing population. It’s also important that adult college students communicate their plans to return to school with their families and employers in order to receive support at home and at work.

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