Did you know that 85 percent of Americans who are enrolled in a postsecondary institution are classified as a “nontraditional student?” If you’re an adult learner (over 25), a veteran, a senior citizen, working full-time while enrolled, or have dependents other than a spouse or partner — you can answer “yes” to that question.
The Association for Orientation, Transition, and Retention in Higher Education defines a nontraditional student as someone who falls into any one of those categories, along with several others including online and distance learners. Of course, many online learners today fall into a few, if not all, of those “nontraditional” categories, which helps to explain why online degree and certification programs continue to see increased enrollments.
In 2015, 28 percent of all higher education students in the U.S. were taking at least one online course. This was the 13th consecutive year of growth for distance education enrollments, according to the annual Online Report Card from Babson Survey Research Group. So, what are the advantages of online education specific to adult learners?
1) Freedom and flexibility in scheduling
If you’re a parent and you’re already working full-time to support your family, there’s no room in your week for attending traditional classroom lectures. You might not have the luxury of spending a Saturday afternoon studying in the school library or hanging out with fellow students to collaborate on projects.
Online degree programs make all of those concerns irrelevant. You usually enjoy 24/7 access, 365 days a year, to your coursework and student message boards so you can log on anytime of the day or night. You schedule your classes around your life, not the other way around. You never need to miss your child’s big game or leave your employer in a tight spot. And if you’re a night owl by nature, you can capitalize on this by doing all your coursework when others are sleeping.
Not only is tuition normally less costly than a campus-based program, one of the biggest financial benefits of online learning is that you don’t incur any additional living or transportation costs. You also don’t need to worry about paying for additional childcare, cut your work hours, or accept lower pay to attend a classroom-based degree program. All of your learning is done virtually.
3) More likely to finish a program and earn a degree
The rate of students ages 25 to 29 who earned a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 25 percent in 1995 to 36 percent in 2015, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. This coincides with the time period in America in which the internet went mainstream and became a staple in daily life, making online learning possible for adults who can’t attend a traditional classroom-based program.
Additionally, because of the flexibility and ease of working a program around your life, you create more of a personalized and immersive experience, learning at your own pace. This increases both your ability to absorb and retain knowledge, another huge advantage of online education.
4) Enhanced career prospects
The National Adult Learner Coalition (NALC) estimates that “65 percent of American jobs will require some level of post-secondary education by 2020.” Online degree and professional training programs help you learn new skills, improve existing ones, and give you what you need to boost earning potential while succeeding in today’s economy.
Rapid changes in technology are affecting many industries, and online programs can help you stay current with changes specific to your career field. Many companies require college degrees for managerial roles. If you’re interested in moving up in your organization or finding better employment with another company, obtaining an online degree or advanced certificate is a great way to help you climb the ladder of success or start a brand new career.