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The Barriers to Adult Education

By: April Pierce, Communications & Web Services Intern

The decision to return to school can be life-changing. Unfortunately, there are many obstacles standing in the way of adults wishing to pursue higher education. Thankfully, these challenges are being increasingly recognized by postsecondary institutions. Plus, there are also non-traditional opportunities being developed as alternative options to traditional universities.

Adult learners are defined as degree-seeking students above the age of 25. With national college enrollment steadily declining each year, many institutions are eager to be more flexible for adult students. Students now have the choice to attend evening or weekend classes, online courses, and long-distance learning options for students studying across the country or even the world.

These changes have helped, but they’re only a start in treating the overall issue. That’s going to be a lot of hard work, and the first step is awareness of what needs to be fixed. Some of these issues include:

1) Balancing Responsibilities

No matter what type of student you are, everyone can agree that pursing a postsecondary degree is a huge time commitment. Students are expected to make time for classes, studying, homework, large projects, group work, and more. In addition to that, adult learners often have more responsibilities than traditional, college-aged students. In many cases adult learners are also balancing family and demanding work obligations. These responsibilities can interfere with study time and make it harder for adult learners to complete their courses and get good grades.

2) Cost of Attendance

The 2017 annual report for the Institute for College Access & Success has estimated that the average Minnesota college student pays more than $31,734 in tuition. Necessary expenses like textbooks, tuition, and supplies add up quickly. While adult student scholarships do exist, they are not as common and they are less easily obtained. In addition to the cost of attendance, adult learners often have additional financial obligations such as paying for mortgages, daycare, and other large expenses.

3) Time Restrictions

Adult students often struggle to adapt school schedules with other time commitments and transportation needs. People who rely on public transit often struggle to make it to their classes on time due to all the variables that have greater impact on public transit (weather, traffic, staffing). Maneuvering a class schedule, family responsibilities, and job commitments and the bus schedule is daunting at best, especially for people without good support systems from family or friends.

4) The Technology Barrier

As our world grows more digital the expectations being placed on college students are growing with it. At my university, all students are expected to own a personal computer that can be brought to campus for projects. Online portals, where students are expected to submit assignments, discuss with other classmates, and complete virtual classes, are the norm in most educational settings today. Poor computer skills or being a casual user can be a hurdle for even traditionally-aged undergrads.

5) Self-Confidence

One of the most debilitating obstacles for adult students can be their own sense of self-confidence. Many people feel shame or embarrassment about returning to a classroom filled with younger students. Others become so intimidated by the technology barrier that they don’t think they’d have any chance of succeeding. I’ve heard and spoken with several Daily Work job seekers expressing these concerns, including my 51-year old father, who is considering new learning opportunities too.

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Daily Work is dedicated to bridging these gaps to education and better employment for the job seekers we serve. We refer job seekers to grants, job training programs, and educational opportunities during personalized planning sessions with our case managers. If you’re interested in learning more job training programs, keep an eye out for my upcoming blog on the subject.

All of the challenges facing adult students are becoming more manageable as higher education evolves to meet the needs of today’s learners. The reality is that in today’s workforce, we are expected to learn new skills and stay relevant, no matter how fast things change. Adult students demonstrate to us all that we can always expand our horizons through education.


Daily Work is open to all. To learn more about our employment and mentoring services, call (651) 204-3043 or stop by our office at 105 University Avenue West, St. Paul, MN 55103

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