Today’s Adult Students

Today’s Students—Adult Students

Today’s students may not be who you think. They are not just 18-year-olds who recently graduated high school. In fact, 37 percent of today’s students are older than 25.

Many adult students manage different responsibilities—including work and family—on their path to a degree or credential. Sixty-four percent of students work either full-time or part-time. Nearly one quarter of students are parents and 49 percent are financially independent.

With different responsibilities, adult students need policies that cater directly to their needs.

Policy Recommendations for Adult Students 

Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) is a requirement set by institutions that establishes the criteria a student must meet in order to remain eligible for federal student aid. Typically, students need to meet a minimum GPA, or its equivalent, and complete a minimum number of credits or courses, to meet SAP. But if a student fails to meet SAP, they are unable to access federal student aid, even if they return to higher education years later.

 SAP should be reset for students who have not been enrolled in any postsecondary education in the prior five years. To remain eligible after such a reset, students should be required to prospectively maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete 2/3 of credits attempted.

Federal law limits the amount of Pell Grant funds students can receive over their lifetime to the equivalent of six academic years, or 12 semesters, of Pell Grant funding, otherwise known as the Pell Lifetime Eligibility Usage (LEU). But for returning adult students who have already used up their Pell eligibility, this can make college unaffordable.
Pell LEU should be reset for students who have reached the maximum amount of Pell Grants, already hold a degree or credential, and have been employed in the workforce for the majority of the past ten years. A student who receives a Pell LEU reset will only remain eligible for Pell Grants for a maximum of four additional semesters’ worth of credits.

The Pell Grant program—a federal means-tested program that offers postsecondary aid in the form of a grant to be used for tuition, fees, and related expenses—allows millions of today’s students to access and afford higher education programs. But right now, Pell Grants can only be used for programs that are 600 hours or more in length. 

Expanding Pell eligibility to high-quality, short-term programs—which often offer credentials connected to careers in information technology, health care, manufacturing, and other fields—would enable a broader range of students to access high-value skills training programs that enable them to advance their careers and reskill for positions in new industries. 

Students take many paths in and out of higher learning, and often they return to their education with relevant work experience. Generally, however, prior experience and knowledge does not count towards a postsecondary degree or credential. A prior learning assessment (PLA) is an exam that some institutions use to allow students to demonstrate competencies gained through life experience. Institutions can then accept a PLA and determine that it is equal to a certain amount of credit towards a degree or credential. 

Evidence shows that students who undergo PLA are 2.5 times more likely to complete their degree or credential than students who do not, and cost savings per student who takes advantage of PLA can range from $1,600 to nearly $6,000. PLAs could play a powerful part in higher education by allowing individuals’ prior learning to be counted as academic credit toward a credential or degree that holds value in the workforce. 

Policymakers should create a path to help more students access prior learning assessments by allowing students to use federal student aid or reimbursement to cover the cost of PLAs. This would decrease costs for both students and taxpayers while improving student outcomes and affordability. 

Who are Today’s Adult Students?

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