Non-Traditional Students: The New Majority

According to study results recently published in the Wall Street Journal, only a small fraction of the nation’s 18 million undergraduates, less than 29%, fall under what is considered traditional college students, enrolled in a four-year program, living on a college campus. The majority of undergraduates, these days, falls under what is called a non-traditional umbrella.

Last academic year (2011-2012), about 40% of all undergraduates were enrolled in community colleges and other 2-year institutions. More than 2 million of remaining students were over 21 years of age, nearly 1 million were at least 25, and almost half a million were in their 30s or older.

We caught up with Chrysalis Venture Partner Alan Ying to discuss the results of the Education Department study:

Q: What do non-traditional students tend to pursue as areas of study? What do they tend to avoid?

Alan Ying: In terms of areas of study, non-traditional students were more likely to study business, computer science, and engineering than their traditional undergraduate counterparts who might give liberal arts a look. Traditional students are far more likely to look at subjects like liberal arts, but the non-traditional students look to more specific subjects.

Q: What is the appeal of alternative ways to achieve a higher education? Why not go the traditional route?

Alan Ying: Many students are selecting alternative ways to pursue higher education because of their age, extenuating circumstances, or rising college costs. And as their numbers grow, the undergraduates enrolled in traditional programs, are growing smaller as a percentage of total student population.

StraighterLine, one of our portfolio companies, has been instrumental in providing options for non-traditional students, both in accommodating their busy lives (often these students work full time) and remaining affordable. As the population of non-traditional students continues to grow, the market, as well as opportunities, for non-traditional higher education will become even bigger.