Group of college students. (iStock)

There is this indelible image of college being a place where fresh-faced 18-year-olds spend their days in lecture halls and nights bunking in dorms on tree-lined campuses. In reality, higher education experiences are a lot more diverse than that. So much has changed in a generation: who attends college, how they learn, and what their lives are like outside of the classroom. A chart produced by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation captures the complexity of the higher education landscape and why there can be no one-size-fits-all approach. Take a look.


(Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

Here are a few highlights from the chart, which was created using data from the Department of Education:

Age: While more than half of students enter college straight out of high school, nearly half are pursuing a degree in their late 20s, 30s and 40s. These adult learners often work full-time jobs or have families and require flexible class schedules and support services.

Dependents: For at least the past 20 years, a little more than a quarter of college students have been parents. Yet too few schools have day-care facilities to make it easier for parents with small children to attend classes. Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton said she would offer grants to colleges that invest in child care to lessen the strain on moms and dads juggling classes and raising children.

Housing: There are far more college students living off campus than dwelling in dorms. Those students, however, still have living expenses that some colleges struggle to quantify in the cost of attendance. A study by the Wisconsin Hope Lab found that inaccurate estimates could affect financial aid or result in families misjudging the true cost of sending a child to school.

Learning environment: Colleges have grown more adept at integrating technology into the learning experience. There are hybrid courses that split the time online and in the classroom. There are also strictly online offerings designed for working professionals and other adult learners.

Work: About 62 percent of college students are holding down either part-time or full-time jobs. The prevalence of students working full time has necessitated more flexible class hours and distance learning. At the same time, the quality of part-time work for students has come into question. Student advocates have called for turning federal work-study jobs into subsidized internships. That way, students who have to work to pay for college can earn valuable experience in their field of study.