American Dream

Considering Going Back to College? The Nontraditional Environment Is Changing

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Baby-boomers have always been famous for setting trends and living life differently. So it’s no surprise that this generation, many of whom are now empty nesters, isn’t content to retire right away. Instead, the trend is to start a second career or kick a current career up a notch, by going back to school. But the academic environment has changed in the past few decades, so keep the following in mind as you choose to continue your education.

The Changing Tide for Nontraditional Students

If you attended college between the 1970s and 1990s, it was more unusual to see an older student (age 35 and above) in class with you than it is today. In the ’70s, only 767,000 people age 35 and older were enrolled in college compared with 3,758,000 as of 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. As more nontraditional students are going back to college, the chance for academic institutions to invest in higher enrollment rates couldn’t be greater.

Many academic institutions now cater to the needs of this older demographic. For example, some schools offer childcare programs for eligible students. In 2013, the Department of Education’s “Child Care Access Means Parents in School” program set up grants for 58 schools in 28 states to offer day care for their low-income, nontraditional students. Additionally, some colleges cater to the older demographic by offering adult student associations, specific degree programs, or advisers trained to work with older students.

According to, the following schools are the top five recommended for older students: University of Texas at Dallas, University of Utah, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Regis University, and Ohio University.

Baby-Boomers Go Digital

Many colleges offer online options that allow nontraditional students to enroll without having to physically attend classes. According to the U.S. News & World Report, the following schools have the best online programs: Pennsylvania State University-World Campus, Daytona State College, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Western Kentucky University.

If you just want to brush up on certain skills, you can utilize sites such as, which offers online courses on real world skills.

A Little Goes a Long Way

A career-boosting education doesn’t always involve years of class time. It’s possible to land a great job with only a certificate, an associate degree, or just a few specialty classes under your belt. put together a list of fast-growing jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, including:

  • Environmental science and protection technician
  • Gaming investigators
  • Dental assistants and hygienists
  • Estheticians

But beware the changing career tides; industries such as farming and agriculture, postal service, and data entry should all be avoided as they begin to decrease in opportunities.

Whether you’re looking to change your career or have a lust for learning, there are benefits to continuing your education — despite your age. But before you invest in a backpack, consider whether going back to college is necessary. If you have a desired career in mind, it helps to check the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the education qualifications for your dream job. Unless you have money to burn, it’s a good idea to crunch the numbers: Determine how much you’ll spend on your college degree or certificate versus how much you can expect to earn. Millennials aren’t the only ones that can be deep in education debt.

As more nontraditional students fill classroom rosters, don’t let your age be a factor in advancing your career (and potentially expanding your income).