All educational pursuits are a journey, and students start their journeys with the belief that they will complete a degree and graduate. But as we know, this journey for many is interrupted. Over the last 20 years more than 37 million students have left college without receiving a degree. Finishing a college degree would greatly improve these former students’ economic prospects. Unfortunately, adult students are often treated as an afterthought by colleges and policymakers. But here is a reality check: According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, over 40 percent of current college students are over the age of 25, almost 30 percent have children, and over 60 percent work at least part time.
The new majority of college students now have adult responsibilities, such as parenting, earning a living, and paying for college. The challenge and opportunity for postsecondary institutions is to design systems that support success for this new majority. Furthermore, serving adult students well by design shows postsecondary institutions how to better serve all students.
Drawing on the Graduate! Network’s 15 years of working with this population of students, we honor these determined individuals who are intent on completing their degrees, by designating them comebackers. The Graduate! Network coined the term to underscore their potential and their tenacity this time around. However, addressing returning comebackers’ needs can be challenging when colleges, states, and researchers only have limited information about what these adults need to re-enter college and be successful. This report is presented using their journey as our framework—one of getting back on track, persevering, and earning their degree, as it provides new information for colleges, employers, governments, and organizations seeking to improve postsecondary outcomes.
This joint report from the Graduate! Network and New America examines the journeys of determined individuals who get back on track, persevere, and earn their degree—known as comebackers—to show how policy makers and postsecondary institutions can design systems that support success for this new majority and better serve all students.