Not your parents' college experience

What today's students need from higher ed

Higher education is a critical engine of social mobility and economic development for our country. For students, earning a postsecondary degree or credential is the surest pathway to economic opportunity and the chance to lead a healthy, productive life.

Today's college students are more diverse than ever before. They are older students who may be juggling other responsibilities such as work and family. They are first-generation college-goers and students from low-income families who have high hopes but face new and unfamiliar challenges. And they are students of color who have gotten to and through college at lower rates than their white peers.

To help more Americans achieve their dreams and to build a stronger economy for all of us, we need to better understand who our students are and what they need to succeed. Here's a look at today's college students and the challenges they face in making it to graduation.

Today's college students

While the profile of today's college students increasingly reflects our country's rich diversity, many students don't have the support they need to balance demanding schedules and competing priorities.

  • Nationwide, 50% of students who start a postsecondary program drop out before earning a degree or certificate

  • Household income remains a major determinant of whether a young person will graduate college

  • Today, only 9% of young adults from the lowest income quartile will complete a bachelor's degree by age 24

  • Working Students

    62%

    of students work

    26%

    of students work full-time

    Some students already in the workforce want or need to change their career as the economy evolves, while others need to work part- or full-time to support themselves and finance their education. As a result, working students need flexible courses and programs that give them the opportunity to move at their own pace and study anytime, anywhere.

  • Diverse Students

    42%

    of students are non-white

    17%

    of students are Latino

    15%

    of students are African American

    6%

    of students are Asian

    While the number of students of color who start college has increased significantly in recent years, these students are still less likely to persist and graduate than white students. Closing this gap is critical to reducing income disparities and meeting our country's workforce needs.

  • Older Students

    40%

    of students are 25 or older

    A significant percentage of students do not transition immediately from high school to college and instead return years later to seek a credential or degree. Most of these students are balancing work and family obligations, and many need a refresher on things they learned before. They need flexible and affordable programs that pinpoint what they know and what they need and give them credit for what they've already mastered.

  • Student Parents

    28%

    of students have children

    Balancing the responsibilities of raising children with the time and financial commitments of college can be difficult. This is particularly true when students are enrolled at institutions that are not equipped to meet their needs with flexible scheduling or child care options.

  • Low-income Students

    33%

    of students come from families earning $20,000 or less per year

    As the costs associated with college continue to rise, students and families from low-income backgrounds are especially feeling the squeeze, and grant aid programs are not keeping pace. These students work more, take fewer courses at a time or delay enrollment, reducing their chances of ultimately getting a certificate or degree.

  • Commuter Students

    59%

    of students do not live on campus

    Students who do not live on campus often have other obligations such as work and family. This means they are often looking for programs and services that work with their schedules and/or can be accessed online.

Learn more about what the Gates Foundation is doing to improve outcomes for today's college students.

Sources: American College Health Association, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education
  • Not your parents' college experience

    What today's students need from higher ed

  • Higher education is a critical engine of social mobility and economic development for our country. For students, earning a postsecondary degree or credential is the surest pathway to economic opportunity and the chance to lead a healthy, productive life.

  • Today's college students are more diverse than ever before. They are older students who may be juggling other responsibilities such as work and family. They are first-generation college-goers and students from low-income families who have high hopes but face new and unfamiliar challenges. And they are students of color who have gotten to and through college at lower rates than their white peers.

  • To help more Americans achieve their dreams and to build a stronger economy for all of us, we need to better understand who our students are and what they need to succeed. Here's a look at today's college students and the challenges they face in making it to graduation.

  • Today's college
    students

    While the profile of today's college students increasingly reflects our country's rich diversity, many students don't have the support they need to balance demanding schedules and competing priorities.

  • Nationwide, 50% of students who start a postsecondary program drop out before earning a degree or certificate

  • Household income remains a major determinant of whether a young person will graduate college

  • Today, only 9% of young adults from the lowest income quartile will complete a bachelor's degree by age 24

  • Working Students

  • Working Students

  • 62

    of students work

    26

    of students work full-time

  • Some students already in the workforce want or need to change their career as the economy evolves, while others need to work part- or full-time to support themselves and finance their education. As a result, working students need flexible courses and programs that give them the opportunity to move at their own pace and study anytime, anywhere.

  • Students of Color

  • Students of Color

  • 42

    of students are non-white

    17

    of students are Latino

    15

    of students are African American

    6

    of students are Asian

  • While the number of students of color who start college has increased significantly in recent years, these students are still less likely to persist and graduate than white students. Closing this gap is critical to reducing income disparities and meeting our country's workforce needs.

  • Older Students

  • Older Students

  • 40

    of students are 25 or older

  • A significant percentage of students do not transition immediately from high school to college and instead return years later to seek a credential or degree. Most of these students are balancing work and family obligations, and many need a refresher on things they learned before. They need flexible and affordable programs that pinpoint what they know and what they need and give them credit for what they've already mastered.

  • Student Parents

  • Student Parents

  • 28

    of students have children

  • Balancing the responsibilities of raising children with the time and financial commitments of college can be difficult. This is particularly true when students are enrolled at institutions that are not equipped to meet their needs with flexible scheduling or child care options.

  • Low-income Students

  • Low-income Students

  • 33

    of students come from families earning $20,000 or less per year

  • As the costs associated with college continue to rise, students and families from low-income backgrounds are especially feeling the squeeze, and grant aid programs are not keeping pace. These students work more, take fewer courses at a time or delay enrollment, reducing their chances of ultimately getting a certificate or degree.

  • Commuter Students

  • Commuter Students

  • 59

    of students do not live on campus

  • Students who do not live on campus often have other obligations such as work and family. This means they are often looking for programs and services that work with their schedules and/or can be accessed online.

  • Learn more about what the Gates Foundation is doing to improve outcomes for today's college students.