What is the picture of a traditional college student? Most of us imagine an 18–21 year old, living on a campus far from home. But recent data compiled by the Wall Street Journal shows that that’s far from the case:
First of all, more than 40% of all undergraduates in the 2011-2012 school year were enrolled in community colleges and other two-year institutions, according to Education Department data. Of the ones in four-year programs, more than one in five attend school part-time. That leaves a bit more than 8 million students who are enrolled full-time in four-year schools, or 45% of all undergraduates.More than two million of the remaining students were over age 21 in the fall of 2011, the traditional age of a first-semester senior. Nearly a million were at least 25, and nearly half a million were in their 30s or older.
Of the nation’s 18 million undergraduate students, only 5 million fit the traditional description. That’s 29 percent.It’s critical that we understand this reality as we examine the problems in higher education. Debates about student loans, soaring tuition, and university spending typically revolve around an assumed kind of student that we now see is in the minority. As we get a clearer picture of what a typical student looks like today, the debate should change with it.