Higher Education Not Keeping Pace with the Changing Needs of “Nontraditional Students,” Study Finds

Strayer University & U.S. News & World Report’s Marketing and Business Intelligence Teams’ Survey Highlights the Changing Demographics, Aspirations and Needs of Undergraduates

WASHINGTON--()--Seventy percent of Americans who have pursued a Bachelor’s degree qualify as nontraditional students, according to the 2016 College Experience Survey from Strayer University and U.S. News & World Report’s Marketing and Business Intelligence Teams. The study found that nontraditional students are more demographically diverse and place more value on scheduling flexibility, employability, and affordability than traditional 18-24 year-old college students.

“Nontraditional students now make up a near majority of college students”

Key demographic findings from the survey include:

  • Nontraditional students more closely reflect the overall U.S. population
    • 33 percent of nontraditional students are racial minorities compared to 12 percent of traditional students and roughly 38 percent of the total U.S. population (2010 Census)
  • Nontraditional students currently earn higher wages
    • 58 percent of nontraditional students earn $60,000 per year or more, compared to 43 percent of traditional students
  • Nontraditional students are more likely to be currently employed full-time
    • 59 percent of nontraditional students are now employed full-time, compared to 43 percent of traditional students

“Nontraditional students now make up a near majority of college students,” said Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strayer Education, Inc., Strayer University’s parent company. “Earning a degree is a competing priority, as these students also juggle full-time jobs, family and personal commitments. Colleges and universities must embrace online learning and offer greater affordability and scheduling flexibility in order to meet the diverse needs of this growing student population.”

The study found that nontraditional students were more likely than traditional students to choose a school based on its scheduling flexibility (24 percent), availability of online courses (12 percent), career center resources (11 percent), and personalized pace of instruction (11 percent).

The study also found that nontraditional students tend to be more committed to their education than traditional students. Nearly half (45 percent) of nontraditional students say they already have or are likely to pursue a Master’s degree. This commitment may be because they often start later in life (28 percent first enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program at age 25 or older), are working full-time while enrolled in school (67 percent), and are more likely to self-finance their education (24 percent) or take advantage of employer-sponsored tuition programs (10 percent).

They are also more likely to appreciate the value of a college degree (72 percent say it is very important) and pursue a degree to get a better job (54 percent) or advance in their current job (23 percent).

To learn more about the survey, click here and follow the conversation on Twitter at @StrayerInc.


Strayer University and U.S. News & World Report’s Marketing and Business Intelligence Teams commissioned Amplitude Research, Inc. to conduct an online survey of adults nationwide about their educational experiences and attitudes. The survey was completed by 1,000 respondents in late August and early September of 2016.

A “traditional” student was defined as someone who pursued a Bachelor’s degree as a full-time student while under age 25 and was claimed as a dependent for tax purposes. “Nontraditional” students met at least one of the following criteria: received a GED or equivalent; were employed full-time (35 hours or more per week) while in school; were enrolled as a part-time student while pursuing their Bachelor’s degree; were 25 or older when they finished their Bachelor’s degree; or were 25 or older when they were last enrolled in a Bachelor’s degree program.

The maximum sampling margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level for a sample size of 1,000 randomly selected adults is +/-3.1 percentage points.

About Strayer University

Founded in 1892, Strayer University is a proprietary institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in business administration, accounting, information technology, education, health services administration, nursing, public administration, and criminal justice, to working adult students. The University includes Strayer@Work, which serves corporate clients by delivering the next generation of performance improvement and workforce development. Strayer University also offers an executive MBA online and corporate training program through its Jack Welch Management Institute. Strayer University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. (267-284-5000). The Middle States Commission on Higher Education is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

For more information on Strayer University visit www.strayer.edu.


Strayer University
Rachel Decker Richelieu, 202-557-4920

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