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What Motivates Adult Students to Go Back to College?

by Neil Kokemuller, studioD

Adult students make up a significant portion of the student body in many colleges and universities across the United States. Adults from their mid-20s to their 60s and 70s return to school with various goals and purposes. In some cases, they are finishing what they started years before. In others, job losses or other external influences provide the motivation.

Company Layoffs

When companies downsize and lay off workers, they often leave some people without many options based on limited skills and narrow work expertise. Being forced out of work with few other career options at the time propels some adults to return to school. They hope that additional education will open more doors. Additionally, state and federal educational assistance programs are sometimes available, enabling displaced workers to return to school for little or no cost.

Career Change

Some people jump right into a career out of high school or get a job in a field related to their degree, only to decide five or 10 years down the road to switch careers. If your degree and work experience are in business and you want to become a nurse, your business background doesn't fit the bill. To enter the health field, you would need to receive education and required certification in nursing. Someone who wants to get into sales may take a marketing or selling course.

Pay and Promotion Opportunities

Employers sometimes offer pay and promotional opportunities contingent on higher education. A receptionist in a real estate office may get a bump in pay for completing a licensing course, since she could then answer more technical questions. Increased knowledge and skills are sometimes requirements to help you get a higher-level position. Government agencies and educational institutions use pay schedules that offer more pay based on education. Some public schools pay stipends to educators with advanced degrees, such as a master's degree or Ph.D.


Kids are often a factor when adults return to school. In some cases, high school graduates and young adults delay college because they have children early. Along with caring for young ones, parents are also budget strapped and may not have the funds to begin school right away. For same parents, the real motive in returning to school is to set an example for their children by earning a degree.

About the Author

Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.

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