The term "traditional student" has undergone a world of change in recent decades. The image conjured up when someone mentions "college student" is no longer just the 18-22-year-olds living on campus, toting a backpack full of books purchased by Mom and Dad.
The good news is, the traditional college setting has changed right along with it. College today looks less like a handful of young adults tossing a Frisbee on the quad, and more like working adults squeezing in late-night assignments between putting the kids to bed and preparing for a week of full-time work.
Nontraditional students have become the new majority in today's college landscape. In fact, adult learners over the age of 24 make up approximately 44 percent of today's undergraduate students in the United States. While the old model of the traditional college landscape was geared toward "students who work," today's world of higher education is set to better accommodate "employees who study."
And if a rapidly growing community of peers isn't enough to persuade you, we've gathered a handful of fascinating statistics to show you why going back to school to complete your bachelor's degree will be worth it in the end.
The ever-changing landscape of higher education brings with it a multitude of possible paths for college hopefuls. Many still attend a 4-year institution from the get go and earn a bachelor's degree along that tidy timeline. Others opt to earn an associate degree at a 2-year college before transitioning to pursue a bachelor's degree. And still others extend their university experience to an online learning environment.
Even with a plethora of different options, studies show a 4-year bachelor's degree plan is often the most lucrative path to follow. Approximately two-thirds of students who start off at a 4-year college end up earning a bachelor's degree within six years. Conversely, about one in five students who enroll in a 2-year college with the intention of completing a bachelor's degree actually succeed in doing so.
Nationwide unemployment rates illustrate a similar trend. Bachelor's degree holders saw an unemployment rate of 4 percent in 2013. Associate degree holders and those with no degree saw rates of 5.4 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
The benefits of a bachelor's degree can also be seen in average annual salary statistics. The average worker with an associate degree and little professional experience earns approximately $37,100 per year. The average worker with the same amount of professional experience who has a bachelor's degree earns about $46,900 per year—a 26 percent increase for those earning a bachelor's degree!*
People are often quick to gripe about the oppressive shadow of student loan debt when refuting the benefit of earning a bachelor's degree. But it turns out the value of the degree just might overshadow the loans you took out to get it. The estimated value of a bachelor's degree for the average college graduate sits at an all-time high of approximately $300,000, according to a Federal Reserve Bank of New York study that compared national averages for tuition, opportunity costs and graduate wages.
Numerous studies have illustrated the "true" worth of a college degree. You may be drawn to the increased salary, the decreased rate of unemployment or even the increased rates of degree completion. Whatever your motivation, it is up to you to compare your personal situation to the potential benefits when deciding whether or not to go back to school.
Here's the good news: The shifting landscape of college life has made earning a degree more convenient than ever for nontraditional students. Taking classes at night or online helps students maintain full-time work and/or a house full of kids while completing a bachelor's degree.
If you're thinking about tapping into your educational potential to see what career dreams a degree can help you achieve, be sure to check out these 5 tips from educational experts to help you ace going back to college.
*Salary data represents national, averaged earnings and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions may vary in your area.