The profile of today’s college-going population looks much different than it did decades ago, when the average student was a fresh-faced 18-year-old moving directly from high school to campus. Students today are older, more experienced in work, and more socioeconomically and racially diverse than their peers of decades past.
But higher education has been slow to catch up to this new reality – to the detriment of thousands of students. The ways we provide instruction, finance education, market the college experience, and measure student learning still look much like they did years ago. And as we cling to outdated models, thousands of the college students in this new demographic are dropping out and sinking into debt at higher-than-average rates.
Recent reports, including one released last month by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), highlight this pressing problem. The IWPR report shows that a quarter of those in college today– 4.8 million students – are raising dependent children, and more than half of those students are single parents.
And according to the IWPR report, only 33 percent of those students with children complete their degrees within six years, compared with the somewhat higher but still abysmally low national average of 54 percent. Students with children also average about $28,350 in student debt, compared with the $25,169 their non-parent peers carry.
These data should be a clarion call for policymakers, educators, employers and other stakeholders to redesign education beyond high school. By doing so, they have an opportunity to dramatically increase our nation’s college attainment rates and close the pressing talent gap America faces in years ahead.