Are You Too Old to Go to College?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

People have long debated whether or not it’s worth it to go to college. A few months back, Time Magazine published a piece entitled “Here We Go Again: Is College Worth it?” And the title of the piece alone gives us insight into the debate — its back and forth nature, and how it seems to resurface whenever data is highly publicized that relates to rising tuition costs and student loan debts.

Although we’ve determine through numerous studies that the answer to the question of whether or not college is worth it is a resounding “yes,” there are still other questions to consider as well. What if a person is not the stereotypical college-bound student? Does that change the answer to the “worth it” question?

Over the past several years, more and more people over the age of 25 have been attending college, paying tuition, and taking on student debt. Many of them have mortgages, families, and children — and even full-time jobs. We see televised advertisements for schools catering to this demographic, and those with full-time careers, and even families, are realizing that they can balance work, life, and higher education.

Data from the National Center For Education Statistics indicates a rise in enrollment for those in the 25 and older age group from 2000 to 2011. This is something that may very well continue. “Between 2000 and 2011, the enrollment of students under age 25 increased by 35 percent. Enrollment of students 25 and over rose 41 percent during the same period. From 2011 to 2021, NCES projects a rise of 13 percent in enrollments of students under 25, and a rise of 14 percent in enrollments of students 25 and over,” reports the NCES.

Do the same financial benefits of going to college apply to older students?

Gallup just released a survey that analyzed nearly 4,000 nontraditional college graduates and around 7,500 traditional college graduates who earned their degrees between 1990 and 2014. The survey found that overall, the difference in earnings between those who graduated between the ages of 18 and 24 and those who earned their degrees after the age of 25 is insignificant.

by Erika Rawes// data from Gallup

by Erika Rawes// data from Gallup

The majority of grads (around 50%) earn between $24,000 and $90,000 annually, regardless of whether they are traditional graduates who completed college before age 25 or nontraditional grads who completed college after age 25. In both demographic groups, around one in 10 grads earn $180,000 or more, and around one in four grads earn less than $24,000.

Source: Thinkstock

source: Thinkstock

Does it make any difference?

While older college graduates may not see much of a difference in earnings, they may see differences in other areas. In all five measures of well-being — purpose, social, financial, community, and physical — older, nontraditional graduates scored slightly lower marks than did younger grads. Although the difference isn’t particularly marked, younger grads may be happier, simply because they face lower levels of stress. Most traditional grads do not have to balance a family and a full-time job while attending school, as so many older grads do.

Older grads also are also “slightly more likely to take on student debt, which previous Gallup research has linked to lower well-being,” the study reports. Older grads are even more inclined to be the first person in their families to finish college as “58% of nontraditional graduates are first-generation graduates, compared with 35% of traditional graduates. Being a first-generation college graduate is linked with coming from a lower-income household, which may partially explain nontraditional graduates’ lower well-being,” the Gallup study adds.

Lastly, younger, traditional grads (20%) are more likely to develop an emotional attachment to their Alma Mater than older grads (14%). Perhaps this has something to do with the on-campus college experience that is traditionally associated with the younger crowd.

Are you too old to go to college?

You’re never too old to go to college. When deciding whether or not to make an investment in your future, there are always cost concerns and other factors to consider. But, at the end of the day, whether it’s to increase earnings power, to learn new skills, or even to set an example for your loved ones, just about anyone can benefit from a college degree.

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