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July 08, 2013 1:48 PM Nontraditional College Students Have Been the Majority for a Long Time

By Daniel Luzer

According to a new article in the Wall Street Journal, “‘Non-Traditional’ Students Are Majority on College Campuses.” As Ben Casselman puts it:

29%:The share of college undergraduates who are traditional students.
The word “college” tends to call to mind images of fresh-faced young students studying, living and, yes, partying on or near leafy suburban campuses. But that picture only describes a small fraction of the nation’s 18 million undergraduates—even though such students dominate the public debate over the value of a college education.

Really? Because we actually see this “non-traditional students are new majority” story like every year.

While there are certainly more nontraditional college students now than in past years, a trend likely spurred by the proliferation of for-profit schools and the country’s economic decline, this is actually not news.

While the definition of a nontraditional student is a little imprecise, adult students have been the majority of college students in America since the Reagan administration.

It might even have been true before that. American adults have studied in vocational institutions and training centers for most of American history. It’s only recently, since World War II, that we’ve considered “higher education” to mean both traditional 4-year colleges and work training centers and classified everyone taking a course somewhere as a “college student.”

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