America's best colleges for adult learners.

Author:Glastris, Paul
 
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NEARLY HALF OF ALL COLLEGE STUDENTS ARE TWENTY-FIVE OR OLDER. YET NO PUBLICATION HAS RANKED THE TOP SCHOOLS FOR THEM. UNTIL NOW.

Go to almost any college website and look at the PR photos of the students. The first thing you'll probably notice is their diversity: white, black, Latino, Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern, all the colors of the rainbow. What you might not notice, at least at first, is what they all have in common: their age, late teens and early twenties. The reason you might not notice this is that it seems natural: in our mind's eye, colleges are places filled with fresh-faced young people who recently graduated high school.

But in the real world, that's no longer the case. More than 40 percent of the 20.2 million students attending American colleges and universities are adults, defined as twenty-five years old or older. This is not a new trend, and colleges surely know all about it. Yet the fact that the PR photos on their websites don't reflect that reality indicates just how behind the curve most of them are in adapting and catering to this huge and growing demographic.

Unlike traditional undergrads, adult learners tend to juggle full-time jobs and family responsibilities, and so they have trouble fitting daytime classes into their schedules. Yet few colleges offer anywhere near enough evening, weekend, and online classes to complete a degree, or--banish the thought--provide on-campus daycare. Many adult learners are returning students who have earned college credits elsewhere. Yet too often, colleges won't accept a lot of those credits, forcing adult students to spend more time and money to get their degrees. Adult learners typically have learned-on-the-job knowledge of the subject they're hoping to major in--a bookkeeper studying accounting, for instance. But precious few colleges offer tests that can let these students earn college credit for that knowledge--"prior learning assessments," in higher ed speak.

The failure of so many colleges and universities to meet the needs of adult learners hurts us all. It diminishes upward mobility, robs the economy of needed skills, and slows our efforts to catch up with other countries in the percentage of our population with post-secondary credentials.

And it's not just the higher education system that has failed to adapt to the needs of adult learners. So has the press. The ever-growing number of publications that rate and rank American colleges and universities--U.S. News &amp...

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