New breed

In the past, the term “college student” conjured the image of people in their early 20s, living on campus at a traditional university, learning about life on their own for the first time and dreaming about what they may encounter in the real world.

Today, while most universities have enjoyed steadily increasing enrollment, many schools are catering more and more to the nontraditional student – the working adult.

For a growing number of American college students, life happened and they’ve found themselves living in the real world before completing their formal education. In spite of – and in part because of – their professional and family obligations, many are finding a way to incorporate an education into their hectic lives.

In fact, 73 percent of the nation’s undergraduate students today are considered nontraditional, including a substantial number of people enrolled part time while working full time. These figures are even higher for graduate-level students.

This demographic shift is consistent with the general aging of our society. For example, in Ohio, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2002 estimates, 43 percent of our population falls in the 25- to 54-year-old category. It is this large population that is the core of our work force, and it is also fast becoming the core of our nontraditional college students, those either trying to finish a bachelor’s degree or working to earn a master’s degree.

And the trend is gaining momentum nationwide. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment of 25- to 29-year-olds is expected to increase by 13 percent by 2012, while enrollment of those 30 to 34 years old is projected to increase by 10 percent during the same period. This 25- to 34-year-old age group will contribute to the projected total college enrollment increase of 15 percent from 2000 to 2012.

More of today’s college students have incredible responsibilities competing for their attention while they attend their programs. That’s why many colleges and universities that cater to these working-adult students must ensure that the learning modules and delivery systems used can help nontraditional students apply what they learn on the job, as well as enable them to earn their degree in a manner that fits into their work and life responsibilities.

How do these changes in higher education demographics affect business in Columbus? The students who are striving to achieve their academic goals are also the people who staff your businesses and organizations – the ones who make Ohio work. They are taking incredible initiative to do something that will help them improve themselves and the companies that employ them. These are valuable members of your organization and should be encouraged.

In business, it’s vital to have a motivated, well-educated staff that can meet the challenges of our ever-changing world. The more educated, technology capable and real-world-trained a work force is, the better products and services it can deliver.

Ohio businesses that support their workers’ educational desires through programs such as tuition reimbursement and flexible schedules, and institutions of higher learning that understand the need to deliver curriculum and learning systems targeted at this growing student population of working adults, will prosper and grow. Eric Ziehlke is associate campus director for the University of Phoenix-Columbus Campus. The University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university, with more than 175,000 students at more than 125 campuses in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. Reach him at (614) 433-0095 or [email protected].