Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

 Email  Share  Print

New ACE Paper Recommends Ways to Ease Path to Degree for Post-traditional Learners

December 06, 2017


​A paper released today by ACE, The Post-traditional Learners Manifesto Revisited: Aligning Postsecondary Education with Real Life for Adult Student Success, reveals that post-traditional learners make up nearly 60 percent of the undergraduate population in the United States.

Building on ACE’s long history of supporting both post-traditional learners and the higher education institutions that serve them, Revisited digs deeper into the needs of these college-goers and offers recommendations to help institutions, researchers, and policymakers better help this growing population of postsecondary students complete their degrees.

In this analysis, post-traditional learners are students who are over the age of 25, working full-time, financially independent, or connected with the military. They are a diverse group with a range of educational needs, encompassing many life stages and identities: single mothers, immigrants, veterans, and full-time employees.

“It is important to find new and innovative ways to help post-traditional students chart an efficient and affordable course to a postsecondary degree,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “The recommendations laid out in this paper will help institutions and policymakers think about how to better respond to this challenge.”

According to Revisited, if everyone in the United States 25 years or older with some college but no degree earned an associate degree, 1.1 million Americans would climb out of poverty. This would result in an additional $111.6 billion in after-tax income and an additional $43.2 billion in tax revenue in just one year.

“Helping more post-traditional learners earn a degree would have lasting and transformative effects on our society, economy, and higher education,” said Louis Soares, lead author of Revisited and ACE’s vice president for Strategy, Research and Advancement. “Of the 23 million undergraduates, more than 13 million are post-traditional learners. Some start a degree but don’t finish it, racking up debt and adding to their financial burdens.”

Jonathan S. Gagliardi, co-author of Revisited and associate director of ACE’s Center for Policy Research and Strategy, noted that the current higher education model is not set up for post-traditional student success.

“Whether because of age, employment duties, military enlistment, or responsibilities like caregiving, many of these learners face unique obstacles in finishing a degree because many institutions were not designed to work for them,” he said. “With this manifesto, we give institutions the tools to create more comprehensive learning structures.”

The authors provide recommendations for improving data, developing more robust or integrated financial aid and employment policies, and tailoring academic programs in ways that would strengthen how post-traditional learners are served:

Improving data: At the national level, build on ongoing improvements to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System that allow for a better understanding of college-going patterns of post-traditional learners.

Developing policies: Continue to invest in the Pell Grant Program in ways that make college more affordable for post-traditional learners.

Tailoring academic programs: Use institutional data, policies, and systems to prescribe the right delivery models and services.

The paper concludes that crafting new strategies for post-traditional learners presents an opportunity for higher education institutions and policymakers to make higher education more accessible and sustainable.

For a deeper dive into ACE’s long history of understanding and supporting post-traditional learners, see this blog post on Higher Education Today by the paper’s authors.

MEDIA CONTACT: Kristen Carmen ▪ 202-939-9554 ▪

Other ACE News

  • December 15, 2017

    Today's Headlines

    HEADLINES: Today's Top Higher Education News

    Inside Higher Ed reports on a pair of new surveys suggesting that despite concerns about prices, most Americans (and many Republicans) believe a postsecondary education is essential. In other news, The Associated Press writes that Republican...

  • Technology

    December 15, 2017

    Grid with circles

    FCC Repeals Net Neutrality Rules

    The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to approve a proposal to repeal its net neutrality rules, which uphold the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally. Today’s announcement followed a contentious...

  • Institutional Effectiveness

    December 13, 2017

    Ones and Zeros

    ACE Paper Explores Use of Data Analytics to Spur Student, Institutional Success

    ​Colleges and universities have begun to embrace the need for data-informed decision making to help drive institutional innovation and improvement, but more progress is needed before the analytics revolution takes firm root in higher education.

  • Higher Education Act

    December 13, 2017

    Capitol Building

    House Committee Approves Higher Education Act Reauthorization Bill

    The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act now goes to the full House for consideration.

  • Leading Internationalization

    December 13, 2017


    ACE’s 2018 Internationalization Collaborative: Leading in a World of Growing Complexity

    Senior international officers and other campus leaders can register now for the 2018 ACE/AIEA Internationalization Collaborative, the annual forum for sharing ideas for advancing internationalization. It will take place in Washington, DC, on Feb....


 Related Content