At this stage of the “Information Age,” few people dispute the fact that a college education is critical to finding, securing, and keeping a good job. But if that’s the case, why are so many adults who lack a degree hesitant to return to school?


IQS Research has done extensive research and discovered that — regardless of a person’s age, sex, or race — adults consistently cite four factors to explain why they are not returning to school to finish their degree.

  1. Tuition and expenses
  2. Inconvenient class schedules
  3. Not having enough time to study
  4. Being out of school for too long

Are these concerns legitimate? For the typical adult who dropped out of college, joined the workforce, got married, started a family and hasn’t been in a classroom for 10 to 15 years, these concerns are certainly strongly held.

In fact, we have found these “obstacles” often prevent close to 75% of people who would benefit from returning to school from even looking into their educational options. That’s unfortunate since many of these perceptions are not accurate.

For example, while tuition can be costly, the financial burden of post-secondary education is often not nearly as severe as people fear. Numerous financial aid programs are available to people of all ages, many of which require no out-of-pocket expenses while the student is attending school. Plus, most adult students don’t incur the additional living expenses that recent high school grads attending a residential college have — housing, furnishings, supplies, etc.

Most institutions who cater to working adults recognize the need for scheduling flexibility, and thus offer morning, afternoon, evening and weekend classes. These schools realize that adult students cannot afford to quit working in order to attend school full-time, and offer additional support.

Whether it’s credit for classes completed at other colleges (assuming they’re transferable), access to learning labs and resource centers, or individual tutoring sessions, the majority of schools are very committed to each student’s success. Especially those students who are working 40+ hours per week, and whose study habits may be somewhat rusty.

We’re starting to see some colleges and universities speak to these issues for returning students, advertising flexible class schedules, financial aid, and even distance and online learning possibilities. But what will reach these reluctant students and convince them that a post-secondary education is not only possible, but easily achieved?

This is where further research may be important to colleges and universities: to find the ways to reach these potential students, assuage their fears and get them into the classroom.

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