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Adult learner enrollment keeps sliding, new data shows

Updated: Sep 2

Published Dec. 17, 2019

Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

Senior Reporter

Higher Ed Dive

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There’s some evidence that people are more skeptical of higher education than they were a few years ago, but that doesn’t seem like that’s changing whether people go

Dive Brief:

The number of students who are older than 24 and enrolled in college declined by 2.7% to 6.2 million in the fall of 2019, according to new data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.


The adult student population has been declining since the fall of 2011, and it contributed to the continued downturn in college enrollment this year.


The decrease in adult students occurred across all institution types: public and nonprofit private four-year colleges, public two-year colleges and private for-profit four-year institutions. Students in the traditional college-age range of 18 to 24 are expected to enroll at higher rates than their older peers in the coming years.


Dive Insight:

About 171,000 fewer students over the age of 24 enrolled in college this year compared to a year ago. Overall, enrollment in higher ed fell to less than 18 million students this year, the data shows.


Statistics about adult students are particularly difficult to capture. Adult students may take breaks from their studies periodically, so they may not be included in enrollment counts, R. Lee Viar IV, president of the Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education, told The Hechinger Report last year.


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