5 Facts About The College Ambition Of Today's 30-Somethings

In some ways, 30-somethings have it rough nowadays. Financially, they are the only age group in the country that is worse off than those who were the same age 30 years ago: According to a study by the Urban Institute, 30-somethings in 2013 had a net worth that was 21 percent less, when adjusted for inflation, than 30-somethings in 1983.

So it should be no surprise that returning to school to improve their fortunes is an option those in their 30s might find enticing. Schools.com conducted a survey regarding college attitudes held by students of all ages, and found 30- to 39-year-old college students report career and money rank high when it comes to college decisions.

Keep reading to learn five key facts about why 30-somethings are hitting the books this fall and what was important when they selected their degree program.

Fact No. 1: For 30-somethings, college is all about their career.

30-something student studying online

People's reasons for earning a degree change with time. Younger students may enroll in college because it seems like what is expected after high school. Meanwhile, older students may be looking to change their career or finally pursue a subject that interests them.

However, for 30-somethings, advancing a current career is far and away the most common reason given for returning to school. Of those surveyed, 40.5 percent of those surveyed in their 30s gave this answer. In a far distant second, 12.4 percent said they wanted to pursue their passion — which might hint that it's a time in life that means business.

Those in their third decade of life don't seem to be unhappy with their current profession — in fact, they were 4.5 times more likely to say they wanted to advance their present career rather than find a new one — but they do seem to want to take their job to the next level.

Fact No. 2: Nearly 9 out of 10 are studying online.

student checking tablet

Since many college students in their 30s are already working in the career of their choice, it stands to reason they may need to juggle their college classes with their current job. According to the Schools.com survey, the most popular way to do that appears to be by studying online.

Nearly 88 percent of 30- to 39-year-old respondents say they are enrolled in either fully online or hybrid programs. Hybrid programs combine online classes with some on-campus courses and may appeal to 30-somethings who need the flexibility of online learning but who also enjoy the face-to-face interactions found in on-campus instruction.

Fact No. 3: Money is important but so is the degree program.

money compared to a degree

Possibly because of their precarious financial situation as a whole, students in their 30s are cost-conscious when it comes to selecting their degree program. More than 55 percent said it was one of their top three factors when it came to their enrollment decision.

While money was important, returning students aren't content to spend their cash just anywhere. Of those surveyed, 55 percent said flexible learning options such as online degrees where important and nearly 49 percent said an institution's academic reputation was a top-three factor in their decision.

Fact No. 4: Cost-conscious students are likely to enroll in hybrid programs.

tablet image of student focused on saving money to graduate

For those 55 percent of survey respondents who cited cost as an important factor in their college selection, hybrid programs were overwhelmingly the top choice. In fact, nearly three in five chose a hybrid program over fully online and fully on-campus degree programs. The exact numbers break down as follows:

  • Hybrid programs: 58.2 percent
  • Fully online programs: 26.9 percent
  • On-campus programs: 14.9 percent

Cost-conscious students may find that hybrid degrees at state colleges and universities offer not only flexibility, but also less expensive in-state tuition rates: The National Center for Education Statistics found 16 percent of the students enrolled in public universities in 2012 were taking at least some online classes while only 6.5 percent of those at private nonprofit schools were doing the same.

Fact No. 5: Hybrid programs are winners even with those who don't need flexible learning options.

older students in lecture

While it makes sense that students who need flexible class schedules would pick an online or hybrid program, even those who don't need the flexibility seem to gravitate to online coursework.

Among those for whom flexibility wasn't a top factor, enrollment broke down as follows:

  • Hybrid programs: 55.6 percent
  • Fully online programs: 28.7 percent
  • On-campus programs: 16.7 percent

For those who did need flexibility for their studies, a smaller percentage — 44.8 percent — selected hybrid program while 46.3 percent opted for a completely online degree. Only 9 percent of the group citing flexible learning options as a top priority enrolled in a traditional, on-campus program.

As a group, 30-somethings may have found themselves battered by the bleak economic situation in the past decade which hit right as many were about to hit their career stride. While their net worth may lag behind that of the 30- to 39-year-olds of the past, many in this age group are not backing down on their dreams. Fortunately, plenty of convenient learning options exist to help them put their careers back on a fast-track without breaking the bank in the process. Learn more how to go back to college as a nontraditional student today.

1. Study: 30-somethings worse off than their parents' generation, Terrell Brown, CBS News, June 23, 2013 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/study-30-somethings-worse-off-than-their-parents-generation/
2. Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, Fall 2012, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014023.pdf