Why So Many Full-Time Working Adults Go to Online College

Why So Many Full-Time Working Adults Go to Online College

Adult learners have long formed an important but underserved segment of the college population. Traditional educational models have often been poorly structured to address the scheduling needs, learning objectives, and personal demands that many full-time working adults must manage. Fortunately, online education presents us with a promising alternative, a channel for learning that dramatically broadens access and opportunity for those who wish to work and learn in tandem.

Indeed, while the goal of a college degree is attractive to countless working adults, for many, the idea of taking time away from work or family is unthinkable. Even if you are ready to take the next step in your education and your career, you have bills to pay, kids who need help with their homework, and weekend house projects to finish. That’s exactly why so many working adults are choosing online college.

Earning an online bachelor’s degree can significantly improve your earnings. And today, many highly reputable, fully accredited colleges and universities are offering innovative degree programs designed to accommodate the scheduling challenges and personal demands of adults with full-time jobs and the ambition to earn a bachelor’s degree.

If this sounds like the right move for you, check out the very best online degrees and get started on your search.

Otherwise, read on and find out why so many working adults are choosing online college...

The Wage Premium for College Grads Remains Significant

It should come as no surprise that increased salary potential is a major driver for full-time working adults with an interest in earning their bachelor’s degree. In spite of the high cost of college and the student debt crisis, the truth is that earnings for college graduates are still significantly higher than those of high-school graduates.

In fact, according to money.com, the gap between earnings for high school graduates and college graduates has never been wider. As of 2022, young workers with college degrees now outearn their high-school-graduate counterparts by a record-high $22,000 per year. According to new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the median annual wage for a full-time worker ages 22 to 27 with a high school diploma is $30,000. For a full-time worker with a bachelor’s degree, it’s $52,000.

This amounts to roughly an $800,000 increase in earnings over the lifetime for those who receive their bachelor’s degree. So as working adults consider the challenges of simultaneously balancing college and career, online college is opening new pathways to that higher earning potential.

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The Demand for Upskilled Workers is Growing

The pandemic magnified a shakeup in the American labor economy that has already been underway for years. Trends like the growth of the gig economy, the increasing prevalence of work-from-home culture, and the threat of rising automation have changed the job outlook for millions of Americans.

Those who wish to survive and even thrive must adapt to these changes. For many full-time workers, this has meant a return to education and the pursuit of a college degree. According to EdSurge, The economic dislocations of the pandemic shined a spotlight on the urgent need for worker reskilling and upskilling, which has become a top policy priority for cities, states and the federal government.

As American workers with a high school diploma observe the changing dynamics of the American working economy, many have come to recognize the need to update and enhance their own skill sets. Online bachelor’s degree programs are increasingly designed to address these interests by providing practical and flexible training in career-specific areas. Thanks to the growing availability of high-quality online bachelor’s degree programs in areas like business administration, psychology, and information technology, more full-time workers than ever before are finding ways to add new skills without missing a beat at work.

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Countless Working Adults Are Eligible for Degree Completion

American college students face an oft-overlooked epidemic of non-completion. Recent figures denote a 6-year graduation rate of just 62%. This means that, every year, countless college students leave school with student loan debt and no degree to show for it.

Today, college non-completers make up a significant population of the workforce—individuals with a high-school diploma and a number of college credits under their belt. Many of these full-time workers are eligible to participate in what are called degree-completion programs.

According to EdSurge, Adults over the age of 25 represent roughly 40 percent of enrollment in U.S. higher education. That’s nearly 8 million learners. These are big numbers—making educating this group a societal and economic imperative, as well as a very large market opportunity.

That’s why a growing number of online colleges are offering bachelor’s degree completion models aimed at full-time working adults who have both accumulated college credits and compiled meaningful workplace experience. Many of the best online undergraduate programs offer degree completion programs structured specifically around the needs and priorities of full-time working adults.

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Interest in Tech-Driven Job Opportunities

For many working adults, the desire to return to school is driven in part by the rise in tech-driven or tech-mediated jobs. It isn’t just the rise in automation that threatens job stability for countless full-time workers. Many adult workers also face the challenge of increased reliance on remote work, tech-mediated labor, and data-driven processes.

According to EdSurge, demand is booming for flexible, digital offerings. In Coursera’s second quarter 2021 results reported last week, the company reported revenue growth of 38 percent on the strength of global demand for reskilling, and ‘sustained demand for career-oriented professional certificates targeted at entry-level digital jobs.’

Earning a bachelor’s degree in an area with a strong outlook in the age of automation can be a great way to grow your professional value in a rapidly changing modern workplace.

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The Emergence of New Learning Models Aimed at Adult Learners

While the adult learning population has historically been underserved at the college level, online education is creating a new space for experimentation with innovative models, both in terms of education delivery and credentialing. For instance, says EdSurge, a new concept called “incremental credentialing” is gaining ground in online education.

EdSurge says that this unique strategy breaks degrees and learning into smaller units, so that learners can earn credentials that have immediate and recognized value on their way to a more traditional degrees—or exit with meaningful credentials rather than just credits, as happens in our current all-or-nothing approaches.

This means that, as a full-time working adult, you may be able to earn key professional credentials, credits, and certifications at a pace that not only matches your work schedule, but which also offers periodic benchmarks of success. You may find that your employer will even reward the achievement of these benchmarks by opening up new opportunities for leadership, advancement, and salary growth, even before you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree in full.

This is just one example among many innovative strategies online colleges are exploring to help full-time working adults achieve their educational and professional goals. To learn more, reach out to the online colleges on your list and ask about specialized degree programs for working adults.


Did you know that you can get discounted in-state tuition rates for public or state schools even when you attend college online. This is great news for full-time working adults who already have plenty of bills to pay. Start with a look at the best online colleges in your state.

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