By 1990 nearly 50 percent of students enrolled in the nation's 3,100 accredited colleges and universities will be over 25, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The majority of them will be women who also are juggling full-time jobs.
At the same time, there are fewer 18-year-olds around. America's declining birthrate has produced a 19% drop in the pool of college applicants in the 1980s.
Older students go back to school for varying reasons--to improve career possibilities or retrain for a new job track. Many of the women had to defer their own educations because they were putting a husband through college or because they were caring for preschool children.
Virtually every survey taken of reentering over-25s has found them to be good students. A University of Michigan study found that 91% of the older women enrollees were earning grades equal to or higher than they had in their late teens.
Patricia Yarborough, president of Post, a small Connecticut college with a student body that is more than 60% nontraditional, concurs.
"The fact is, the older student has everything going for her academically," Yarborough said. "She has the maturity, the experience, the concentration skills, and a motivation that comes right out of the need to succeed. She understands, as few younger students do, the direct relationship between hard work and future financial rewards."
Because there are more older students, many colleges and universities now make an effort to accommodate them in terms of scheduling, counseling and finances.
Admissions offices also are becoming more flexible in their requirements. Applicants who can show alternative strengths or talents in the form of life or work experience often can bypass formal academic requirements.
A job, hobby, volunteer work, military training, even a season as a Sunday school teacher may be converted to academic credits.