Working Adults Going Back to School

By John Focht

Adults going back to school is not a recent phenomenon.  Working adults have returned to school for decades in the hopes of either finishing a degree they started decades earlier, or to further their education in the hopes of advancing their careers or starting new careers.

Today, nearly 4 million adults over the age of 35 are enrolled in a degree-granting institution, according to CNBC citing the National Center for Education Statistics.  

The large number of adults back in school after a substantial time away may have to do with the fact that nearly 89% of adults feel there is still room to grow in their current careers, according to Market Watch citing a 2012 poll conducted by the University of Phoenix.

In recent years, beginning with the University of Phoenix online availability, online courses have made it relatively less complicated for working adults to go back to school.  Data provided by Market Watch supports online courses are more advantageous for adults as 74% of adults between the ages of 25-34 are either currently enrolled in online courses, or plan to enroll in online courses, according to Market Watch.

Colleges and universities have made online courses readily available to students for all types of degrees, certifications, and general courses.  A student today can earn a master’s degree without ever stepping foot into the classroom.

Many online courses are designed in a manner that allow students to complete assignments on their own time.  Classroom participation is also required in some online classes through technology like Blackboard.  Blackboard is a software technology that enables professors and students to interact online.  In some ways Blackboard can be compared to a classroom chat room.

Whether taking courses online or in the traditional classroom setting, going back to school for many adults is a fact of life they face in order to keep up in their current job, or simply to hold their jobs.

Adults who have been in their career for 15-20 years have seen their salary rise through promotions or year-end salary adjustments.  In some cases, younger employees are able to come in and potentially do the same job for a much lower pay.  The older workforce, who are 15-20 years into their career, are faced with the potential of losing their job for younger and less-expensive workers.

Furthering an education is a way for adults to continue on their career path and not get stagnant in a specific role with a larger salary.  And of course furthering education is a way to make yourself more marketable in the job market overall, not just with your current employer.

The challenges some adults face in going back to school though is time and commitment.  After all, unlike the days of being 18, 19, 20 years-old, there is quite a bit more responsibility on your shoulder.  Juggling classes while working full-time and supporting your family can be quite challenging.

The fear factor of going back to school as an adult is a real factor too.  Whether going back to school in the traditional classroom setting or taking courses online, there can be an anxiety in going to class with students half your age.  From an online class perspective, the fear can be learning and understanding new technology on top of taking the actual class.  And of course, traditional classroom settings of sitting with and interacting with students who may not have even been alive the last time you were in a classroom.

Further education still remains one of the best options for adults who have been in the work force for 15-20 years. Whether it is to continue advancement in your career, or simply keeping yourself aware of recent technologies and ways of doing business.  It is also the best option if you are in a situation where you are considering changing careers.


Epperson, Sharron. Adult education: Is it worth going back to school? CNBC. Web. 25 September 2013.

More than Half of Working Adults Plan to go Back to School and the Majority will Take an Online Course, reveals University of Phoenix Survey. Market Watch. Web. 19 December 2012.