Financial Insecurity and Time Poverty Among Modern Learners 


Modern learners, sometimes referred to as adult learners, are typically defined as college students aged 25 and older. These students are more likely to face particular barriers to their success, such as work and family responsibilities, than their younger peers. Financial stress and reduced time to dedicate to academics can threaten their success. Students who start college after age 24 have lower graduation rates than their peers who enrolled at a younger age.

Financial Insecurity

Data from the Fall 2023 Student Financial Wellness Survey show that more than three-quarters of students aged 25 and older reported experiencing financial difficulties while enrolled, compared to two-thirds of their younger peers.

Compared to students younger than 25, modern learners were more likely to have had low or very low food security, housing insecurity, or homelessness. Forty-one percent of modern learners reported receiving some form of public assistance in 2023, compared to 25 percent of younger students.

Time Poverty

Much higher percentages of modern learners were parents, and higher percentages reported financially supporting children, spouses, parents, or other family members. Additionally, modern learners were likelier to work more hours per week than their younger peers.

Balancing school, work, and family can be very challenging and can sometimes mean placing school at a lower priority. Most students aged 25 and older—62 percent—think of themselves as workers who go to school rather than students who work. Conversely, only 24 percent of younger students who work consider themselves to be workers first. When the student persona is a lower priority, it may be more difficult to focus on academics and persist to graduation.

Supporting Modern Learners

Modern learners are more likely to experience financial insecurity and time poverty while enrolled compared to their younger peers, potentially leading to reduced graduation rates. Acknowledging these unique personas is essential to providing targeted support to help these learners achieve success.