Why aren’t more working adults pursuing a college degree? New survey reveals insight into barriers

Brandman University surveyAs employers demand better-educated staff, the job world is changing for both traditional and nontraditional students while barriers grow larger for those not pursuing a degree. In a recent survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Brandman University, 63 percent of employed adults who don’t have a bachelor’s degree, and are not pursing one, cite tuition and textbook costs as the biggest barriers, followed by 37 percent who say they don’t have time to pursue a degree, while 27 percent believe they are “too old” to work towards a bachelor’s degree.

Why currently employed adult workers are not pursuing a bachelor’s degree

  • Cost of tuition/textbooks: 63%
  • Lack of time to take classes: 37%
  • Not needed for their current job: 30%
  • Say they are too old: 27%

Nearly a quarter of American adults started college but didn’t finish – about 37 million people, according to research commissioned by the Gates Foundation in 2013. Now, they’re being left behind in an economy increasingly focused on bachelor’s-prepared workers. This new survey sought to identify what working adults say are the primary reasons they aren’t pursing a degree today, but also insight regarding the perceptions of the importance/value of a bachelor’s degree, and what they might need to pursue one. Nearly four-in-five adults (78 percent) say there are significant benefits in earning a degree from an accredited university, and a clear majority (90 percent) says consideration of pursuing one would need to be on ‘their terms’ (for example, they would choose when, where and how they take classes).

How a bachelor’s might benefit employed adults

  • Opportunities for changing job functions or careers: 54%
  • Helps get a pay raise: 50%
  • Provides foundational skills required to further their career: 49%
  • Provides professional knowledge: 45%
  • Helps move up within current employer: 44%
  • Helps when changing to a new employer: 43 %

“The message from this survey is that working adults recognize the value of earning a bachelor’s degree but they are not able to put their lives on hold to go back to college and many are concerned about the costs,” said Brandman University Chancellor Gary Brahm. “It is clear that working adults in the U.S. need access to affordable degree programs that allow them to balance the demands of work and family life.”

Brandman, part of the Chapman University System, is a nonprofit institution that has been serving nontraditional students since 1958 and distinguishes itself by focusing on academic programs specifically tailored to address the challenges of working adult students. Earlier this year Brandman launched MyPath, an innovative competency-based platform that allows adult students to pursue a bachelor’s degree entirely via a tablet or laptop computer at their own pace, on their own time.

More than two years in the making, the first-of-its-kind online program represents a new path to a bachelor’s degree, allowing students to earn an accredited degree at a fraction of the cost. MyPath incorporates a new tuition model as well; students pay $5,400 per academic year allowing them to learn as much as they can. In addition, the new technology developed for MyPath incorporates all material within the online platform, so there are no textbooks to buy, saving students thousands of dollars.

“Competency-based education has been shown to be an increasingly effective tool to get qualified, experienced graduates to the marketplace quickly, and for them, MyPath does that cost-effectively. Moreover, it allows them to focus on what they need to learn, not what they already know. That is particularly important to working adult students and typical students can complete their bachelor’s in two or three years, which means a savings in both time and money,” Brahm added.

For those working adults who think they are too old to go back to college (27 percent in the survey) MyPath has proven to be effective for older students. Take 58-year-old Venita Campagna, one of the students beta testing the platform over the past year. She was forced out of retirement after her husband’s battle with cancer drained their life savings and found that she needs a bachelor’s degree to make more than minimum wage. “This program has given me confidence, hope and proves you’re never too old to go back to college,” Campagna said. “The quicker I work, the faster I’ll earn my degree. The faster I earn it, the less it costs. I’m hoping to finish within the next year.”

Survey respondents also indicate they agree or strongly agree that:

  • If I were considering pursing a bachelor’s degree, I would want to do it on my own terms (e.g. choose where/when/how I take classes): 90%
  • The cost of getting a bachelor’s degree is a barrier to many people: 89%
  • If I were to consider pursuing a bachelor’s degree, I would want to get specific career advancement input from my employer (e.g. how would it help my career): 64%
  • My career advancement has been impacted negatively because I do not have a bachelor’s degree: 37%
  • My employer encourages me to pursue a bachelor’s degree: 28%

“I absolutely love it. This program is a life-changer for me,” said fellow beta student Amanda Harvey, 34 years-old and works full time for a real estate company in Irvine. “I’ve been working for 11 years now and I realize that I could have been going to school that whole time. I’m at the ceiling of where I can go with my career but now thanks to MyPath I’ll finish my bachelor’s degree in less than two years.”

Beta student Colin Grieg, 36, echoes that sentiment. “I thought this would be the right time to get back into school, and this program has been phenomenal. Everything I’m learning is new because of the personalized education plan. I love that everything is all in one place, accessible on my tablet,” he said. “I know that when I earn this degree it will open up so many new opportunities for me.”

The study further revealed that over a third (37 percent) say their career advancement has been negatively impacted because they do not have a bachelor’s degree, while just 20 percent say their employer encourages them to pursue a degree. More than half (54 percent) of those employed without a bachelor’s  degree said that it would help when changing job functions or careers and one-half said it would help get a pay raise.