NPR

'I Need A Degree In Order To Move Forward': Why Some Adults Choose College

About 7.6 million adults 25 and over attended college in 2018. Among them are a mother of four, a Navy vet and a grandmother finishing what she started more than four decades ago.
For some older college students, studying later in life has its advantages: They have skills and tools that could only have come with age and maturity. (Clockwise from top left: Santa Benavidez Ramirez, Liz Bracken, Taryn Jim, Matt Seo, Sakeenah Shakir, Jarrell Harris) Source: NPR

A new father trying to provide for his family. A grandmother finishing what she started more than four decades ago. A man navigating multiple schools, hidden curriculums and financial hurdles. These are just some of the older students working toward a degree in the U.S.

The majority of today's college students have characteristics that describe them as "nontraditional": They work; they're raising children; they're not coming straight from high school. And while some just take a couple-year detour to make money or care for family, others are going back far later in life.

In 2018, nearly 7.6 million college students were 25 years old and over, according to estimates from the federal government. That's about 2 in 5 students in higher education.

And being on older student comes with its own challenges — think of the years separating them from their last high school math class. But those students tell NPR that studying later in life also has advantages: They have skills and tools that could only have come with age and maturity.

Here are some of their stories.

-- Elissa Nadworny, NPR


Santa Benavidez Ramirez, 42 (San Antonio)

When Santa Benavidez Ramirez has a big test or assignment, she takes a couple vacation hours and goes to the library.

The 42-year-old mother of four works full time in the finance department of San Antonio's community college system, and the school library is about 10 minutes away.

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min read
Marium, The Dugong That Charmed Thailand, Dies After Ingesting Plastic
Marium became an internet hit as people marveled over videos of her being cared for by scientists in Thailand. An autopsy revealed plastic pieces in her intestines.
NPR2 min readPolitics
Suicide Bomber Kills 63, Injures 182 At Wedding Reception In Kabul
More than 1,000 people had gathered at a hall in a Shiite neighborhood to celebrate a wedding. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack Sunday.
NPR10 min read
My Grandfather, A Killer
Denise Guerra, a second-generation Filipino American, never met her grandfather. When she finally learned a long-held family secret, it shattered her view of the quintessential immigrant narrative.