Colleges cite more non-traditional students
The college student body today doesn't look like it did years ago. Higher education statistics, and experts close to the issue, suggest a vastly changing student landscape.
There are still plenty of four-year, full-time, right-out-of-high school students on campus, but an increasing number of people are choosing an atypical route, perhaps only attending part-time, or enrolling years after high school graduation, or both.
"Most traditional institutions today - not just in New Jersey, but in Philadelphia and New York - are offering programs now that are designed for adults and other non-traditional students," said Joe Guzzardo, communications director for Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, where 35 is the average age of students.
For example, at TESC, undergraduate semesters are starting each month so students can begin their learning whenever they'd like.
"Things like traditional semesters in the fall and spring do not typically fit the schedules of a college student who's working full-time, is raising a family and has a lot of responsibilities," Guzzardo said.
The school has also had a program in place since its inception that allows students to use life experiences and college-level knowledge in order to earn credit towards a degree, saving them time and tuition dollars.
Elizabeth Kane, dean of the School of Professional and Continuing Studies at Saint Peter's University in Jersey City, said online learning is a major contributor to their non-traditional efforts.
"They need flexibility," she said of the students. "I would say 90 percent of them have full-time jobs, and/or families."
While the school focuses largely on working adults, Kane said it's seeing an increase each year in the number of students who come right out of high school but don't have the time or money to attend college full-time.
Using data from the National Student Clearinghouse, an NBC News analysis said more than 50 percent of today's college students fall into one of the following three categories:
- Attend part-time at some point
- Did not start right after high school
- Transferred at least once from another school