May 17, 1997 in Features

College Population Getting Older

Jere Downs Philadelphia Inquirer
 

The college crowd is going gray. One in four college students was 30 and older in 1995 the largest number of older students ever, according to figures released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The anxiety of older students who returned to school during the recession in the late 1980s and early 1990s has given way to acceptance that workers must continually train themselves to cope with an uncertain workplace, said Rose Ketterer, associate dean of the Evening College at Drexel University.

Nationally, enrollment of older students - 30-plus - has climbed steadily from about 15 percent of all college students in 1973, to about 26 percent - or 3.8 million students - in 1995, the latest year for which census figures are available.

The Census Bureau’s annual report of school enrollment is based on the 1995 Current Population Survey of 55,000 households - the largest national study of its kind, Bruno said. Respondents were asked if they had been enrolled in college courses - at the undergraduate or graduate level - in the last year.

Older women’s ranks grew: About 29 percent of the sample - or 2.3 million women 30 and older - were college students in 1995. That number had increased dramatically from 1973, when 16 percent - or 738,000 older females - were on campus.

The average age of students in Montgomery County Community College’s graduating class this year is 30, a figure college officials say has climbed in recent years as more and more adults return to school to improve their skills in a changing economy.

After women, older African Americans are second proportionally in the nation of those who return to college. Overall, roughly 30 percent of African Americans aged 30 and older - about 527,000 people - reported being enrolled in a college course in 1995. That was up from a 1973 rate of roughly 20 percent of the African American student population.

Of white students 30 and older, roughly 26 percent were enrolled in a college course in 1995. Fifteen percent reported they had been enrolled in college back in 1973.

Among older students, men appear to be least likely to head back to college. About 23 percent of all male college and graduate students were 30 or older, the census said. But that, too, is up from about 14 percent in 1973.


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