Diversity is the new normal on campus.

Author:Smalley, Andrew

As states seek ways to increase the number of students who earn a college degree or certificate, higher education institutions face new challenges in meeting those goals.

Today's college student population is older, more often financially independent and increasingly diverse. Although nearly 60 percent of students on campus are still 18 to 24 years old and have recently graduated from high school, an increasing number don't fit this traditional mold and may struggle to navigate a system not designed for their needs.

According to Danette Howard with the Lumina Foundation, an education research group, 38 percent of college undergraduates are 25 or older and more than one-quarter are parents.

Today, 47 percent of students are financially independent. But that doesn't mean they are independently wealthy. In fact, nearly half of first-year students have incomes at or below the poverty line. A survey of the California University system found that 40 percent of students weren't sure where their next meal would come from. Concerns over hunger have prompted some schools to open campus food banks.

Employment can help ease financial insecurity, but evidence shows that students who work more than 20 hours a week are less likely to complete their degree or certificate program. About 38 percent of students leave school within their first year...

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