Today’s Students

Who are Today’s Students?

Attendance

Adult Learners:

38

%

of today’s students are older than 25.

Part-Time Students:

40

%

of students are part-time.

First-Generation Students:

34

%

of undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college.

Family and Finances

Low-Income Students:

42

%

are at or below the federal poverty level.

Independent Students:

47

%

of students are financially independent.

Student Parents:

26

%

of students are raising children while studying.

Diversity

Students of Color:
African-American student enrollment grew

72

%

between 1996 and 2020, while Hispanic enrollment grew by

240

%

Life and Work

Working Students:

58

%

of students work while in college.

Veterans:
More than

340,000

post-9/11 veterans have used G.I. Bill benefits to complete their degrees.

Commuters:
Only

13

%

of students live on campus.

Policy Recommendations

While more students are participating in higher education than ever before, there is a vast and growing disconnect between federal policy and the needs of today’s students, employers, and communities. Federal policy can, and should, support the needs of today’s students to ensure that more students not only access postsecondary learning but have the tools they need to succeed.

Affordable Opportunities
Today’s students need a federal student aid system with fewer barriers and adjusted for the realities they face.
Federal student aid programs should be updated to closely reflect the needs of today’s students, who are studying in a broader range of formats, often returning to education after a stop-out, and balancing education with work and family commitments. Federal policy should also work to break down financial aid and logistical barriers to re-entering higher education.

Support Returning Students
Reform federal student aid rules to remove barriers to reentry, including lifetime eligibility caps and satisfactory academic progress rules, for students coming back to higher education.
Count Income Correctly
Reform federal financial aid formulas to allow for more accurate and generous accounting of income and assets for independent students and student parents.
Update Work Study
Reform Federal Work Study to incent completion, expand Job Location Development Programs, ease requirements for off-campus work, and incentivize the connection between aid and course of study.
Simplify Student Loan Programs
Streamline critical elements of federal student loans, including the FAFSA and verification and income-driven repayment options.

Supported Students
Today’s students need a connected, supported system of higher learning that supports their needs both inside and outside of the classroom.
Today’s students are more than just students, and their needs extend beyond the classroom. They are employees, parents, caregivers, and family members. Federal policy should recognize that basic student needs, like food, housing and transportation, must be addressed on the path to completion.

Support Student Parents
Expand funding for campus-connected child care and allow institutions to use funds for partnerships to provide emergency child care options for student parents.
Connect Federal Need Based Programs
Provide connections for low-income students to federal need-based aid programs, including by notifying low-income students they may be eligible for food assistance through SNAP.
Address Financial Barriers
Incentivize institutions of higher education to address financial barriers to completion, including textbook costs and with micro-grants targeted at completion.

Flexible Pathways
Today’s students need flexible and connected nimble pathways between postsecondary, workforce, and job-training programs.
Higher learning is no longer a one-time experience, but a lifelong process. Federal policy should reinforce connections between postsecondary education and training programs to promote academic and workforce success and make credentials and skills more transferable and portable for students. Finally, federal policy should recognize the growing importance of innovative models, such as competency-based education, online learning and alternative credentials.

Support Changing Models of Instruction
Reform federal student aid rules and oversight to encourage effective and high-quality new models focused on outcomes, such as competency-based education.
Recognize New Programs and Providers
Allow students to receive federal student aid for attendance at high-quality short-term programs and high-quality, approved non-institutional programs, including apprenticeships and employer-based training.
Connect Learning Opportunities
Allow federal student aid to be used for dual enrollment programs and payment of prior learning assessments.

Today’s Student Policy Toolkit

It’s time for policies to be updated to better support the success of today’s students. We propose 15 policy recommendations that address barriers to college access and success.

Voices of Today’s Students

Today’s students are returning adults, parents, providers, veterans, and the first in their families to go to college. They need a system that is flexible, affordable and responsive to their needs. But to serve today’s students well, we first need to hear their stories.

Today’s Students Coalition

Today’s students deserve strong advocates in Washington, DC. The Today’s Students Coalition works to accelerate federal policy change for society’s most diverse generation of students.

Featured Resources