Today’s college majority is different from what it once was—older, busier, more racially and culturally diverse, and more financially strained. And too often, today’s students struggle with too many stressors and too little support. While some colleges and universities have adapted to better serve today’s students, federal policy has failed to keep pace. In fact, it is no longer meeting the needs of most college students. We must adjust our practices and policies so all students are equipped to succeed. This report provides a statistical snapshot of students on college and university campuses.
When thinking of typical college students, we envision 18- to-21- year-olds fresh out of high school taking classes full-time on a sprawling campus. That is no longer true: full-time, 18- to 21-year-old students now make up just a third of the college population.
Today’s students represent a new reality.
They are older. Thirty-eight percent of today’s undergraduate students are older than 25. They’re also balancing multiple commitments. About 40 percent of community college students work 20 or more hours per week. Some 25 percent of students are raising children. And 40 percent of today’s students attend school part time.
They are increasingly diverse. Enrollment among Hispanic students tripled in 15 years. Black student enrollment grew by 72 percent. That trend is projected to continue.
Between financial strains, work responsibilities, and childcare, today’s students are busier, and many lack the social and emotional support they need to succeed. Only 11 percent of students living below the poverty line graduate within six years, compared to 55 percent of their higher-income peers. Being a part-time student also shrinks the odds of success. Some 38 percent of students with extra financial, work, and family obligations leave school in their first year—twice the rate of less encumbered peers.
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