Debt and Nontraditional College Students

Lately I’ve seen a lot of positive (or just ”oh wow”) stories about middle aged people going back to college, fulfilling their dreams, and earning skills to succeed in the economy. They’re the fastest growing student population!

One college in New Jersey recently launched a special program called Fomentamos Tu Futuro targeted toward Latino adults over age 25.

“Given the rapid growth of the ‘nontraditional’ student population and the critical role that institutions such as University of Phoenix play in serving these students…. I am delighted that University of Phoenix has decided to invest in research in this area, and look forward to the resulting enhancements in teaching and learning, said a member of the Phoenix advisory board back in 2008.

Alan Tripp wrote earlier this year in the Washington Post that nontraditional students “could also be one of the most important game-changers in the ongoing national discussion on college completion and the continuing dialogue at College Inc. about how to fix higher education.”

Yea, they’re also, it turns out, making some risky financial decisions. According to a Reuters article by Mitch Lipka:

Educational borrowing is up for every age group over the past three years, but it has grown far more quickly among those between 35 and 49, according to the analysis of more than 3 million credit reports provided to Reuters by the credit score tracking site CreditKarma (CreditKarma.com). That group saw its school debt burden increase by a staggering 47 percent, according to the analysis.

The average student loan debt for those aged 38 to 41 was the biggest of that group — about $12,000, up from just under $9,000 in 2009.

According to Tripp, about two-thirds of nontraditional students drop out of college. About 30 percent of these dropouts cite “difficulty managing finances” as the reason for their failure to complete college. No doubt the debt load makes managing finances pretty difficult.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer