Adult Participation in Undergraduate Education: Trends, Patterns, and Attainment over the Life Course

David B. Monaghan, Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY)

Adult students – defined as students aged 25 or older – now make up a substantial portion of the undergraduate population, but very little research has been carried out on this population. I first present a statistical profile of which contrasts adult undergraduates with traditionally-aged students in terms of demographic composition, socioeconomic status, high school academic preparation, and college behavior. I find that most adult undergraduates began postsecondary education during ‘traditional’ ages, which suggests that adult students represent for the most part delayed completers rather than new enrollees. I go on to assess trends in age-specific postsecondary enrollment over the past four decades. Finally, using the NLSY79, I examine the contribution of adult educational upgrading to cohort educational attainment, and determine whether adult attainment narrows or exacerbates educational disparities which emerged earlier in life.

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Presented in Poster Session 5: Economy, Labor Force, Education and Inequality