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Nontraditional Undergraduates / Trends in Nontraditional Student Enrollment


Trends in Nontraditional Student Enrollment


Nontraditional students, as broadly defined by this study, accounted for a substantial proportion of the undergraduate population in all three surveys (figure 3). A clear majority of undergraduates were at least minimally nontraditional, and about half were either moderately or highly nontraditional. The trend over the 6-year period indicates that the enrollment of nontraditional students overall increased between 1986 and 1989, and then leveled off in 1992.

While the overall proportion of nontraditional students did not change between 1989 and 1992, the composition relative to the number of nontraditional characteristics did. That is, the proportion who were moderately nontraditional increased from 28 to 31 percent, while the proportion who were highly nontraditional declined from 26 to 23 percent. If one looks at enrollment according to level of institution, the changes can primarily be attributed to the trends of enrollment in 2-year institutions where the highest proportion of nontraditional students are enrolled.

Changes in enrollment relative to institution type can provide some indication of whether institutions are successfully reaching out to less traditional students in order to maintain or increase their enrollment. This appears to be true for private, not-for-profit 4-year colleges (table 3). Between 1986 and 1992, for example, the proportion of moderately nontraditional students who were enrolled in private, not-for-profit 4-year colleges (both nondoctoral and doctoral) increased. At the same time, the proportion of highly nontraditional students enrolled in these institutions remained stable. Public 2-year institutions, on the other hand, experienced no meaningful change in the proportion of moderately nontraditional students between 1986 and 1989 (31 and 33 percent), but their enrollment increased from 33 to 39 percent between 1989 and 1992. At the same time, unlike the private, not-for-profit 4-year nondoctoral colleges, the proportion of highly nontraditional students who were enrolled in these institutions actually declined from 42 to 35 percent.

While it appears as though there are large fluctuations in nontraditional student enrollment in other institutions such as public less-than-2-year and private, not-for-profit less-than-4-year institutions, it is important to remember that only about 1 to 2 percent of undergraduates are enrolled in these institutions (see table 1) and therefore, there is not enough statistical evidence to conclude that actual changes occurred.

Trends in nontraditional enrollment are also apparent when examined according to the average number of nontraditional characteristics among the undergraduate population (figure 4). Among students in public 2-year institutions, for example, the average number of nontraditional characteristics peaked in 1989 and declined in 1992 (from 2.7 to 2.9 to 2.7). Among students in private, not-for-profit 4-year nondoctoral institutions, on the other hand, the average number of nontraditional characteristics for the 3 years was 1.3, 1.4, and 1.6, respectively, demonstrating a gradual increase over time.

Figure 3-Percentage distribution of undergraduates, by nontraditional status: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

Figure 3
NOTE: Nontraditional status is based on the presence of one or more of seven possible nontraditional characteristics: minimal=1, moderate=2 or 3, highly=4 or more. These characteristics include older than typical age, part-time attendance, being independent of parents, working full time while enrolled, having dependents, being a single parent, and being a recipient of a GED or high school completion certificate. Details may not add to 100 percent due to rounding.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Figure 4-Average number of nontraditional characteristics among all undergraduates, by institution type: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

Figure 4

NOTE: Nontraditional status is based on the presence of one or more of seven possible nontraditional characteristics. These characteristics include older than typical age, part-time attendance, being independent of parents, working full time while enrolled, having dependents, being a single parent, and being a recipient of a GED or high school completion certificate.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Table 3-Percentage of undergraduates according to nontraditional status, by institutional type: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1989

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                                              1986    1989    1992
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Institutional type                                Traditional
            Total                             35.4    31.4    30.4
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                      15.0     9.0     5.7
        2-year                                13.9    12.7    12.6
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          42.1    39.2    36.9
        4-year doctorate-granting             52.7    49.1    50.8
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                      35.5    33.0    21.6
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          54.4    50.0    45.9
        4-year doctorate-granting             64.2    59.4    60.0
    Private, for-profit                       21.0    15.8    16.8
                                          Minimally nontraditional
            Total                             13.8    15.1    15.2
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                       9.8    11.3    13.2
        2-year                                13.5    12.1    14.3
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          15.6    18.6    18.0
        4-year doctorate-granting             15.4    18.9    18.1
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                      14.1    16.1    12.4
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          11.3    14.5    11.1
        4-year doctorate-granting              9.2    15.4    11.8
    Private, for-profit                       14.3    14.3    14.8
                                          Moderately nontraditional
            Total                             24.8    27.5    31.1
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                      36.7    43.8    46.2
        2-year                                30.7    33.0    38.5
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          23.3    25.6    28.1
        4-year doctorate-granting             20.3    22.3    22.4
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                      28.7    31.9    35.5
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          15.3    18.0    22.0
        4-year doctorate-granting             13.3    15.7    17.6
    Private, for-profit                       37.9    40.2    42.1
                                          Highly nontraditional
            Total                             26.0    25.9    23.4
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                      38.6    35.9    34.8
        2-year                                42.0    42.3    34.6
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          19.0    16.6    17.0
        4-year doctorate-granting             11.7     9.7     8.7
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                      21.7    19.0    30.6
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          18.9    17.6    21.1
        4-year doctorate-granting             13.3     9.5    10.6
    Private, for-profit                       26.8    29.7    26.4
------------------------------------------------------------------

NOTE: Nontraditional status is based on the presence of one or more of seven possible nontraditional characteristics: minimal=1, moderate=2 or 3, highly=4 or more. These characteristics include older than typical age, part-time attendance, being independent of parents, working full time while enrolled, having dependents, being a single parent, and being a recipient of a GED or high school completion certificate.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Surveys: 1986-97 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Trends for Individual Nontraditional Characteristics

Looking at each characteristic separately, the patterns of change tended to vary over the 6-year period (figures 5a and 5b). For example, the most notable increases between 1986 and 1992 occurred for the proportion of students who were older than typical or who attended part time. The only significant decline between 1986 and 1992 was found for undergraduates who had a GED or certificate of high school completion.

Older Than Typical Age

The proportion of undergraduates enrolled in postsecondary education who were older than typical increased, from 54 to 59 percent between 1986 and 1992 (figure 5a). The proportion of older-than-typical students rose substantially in private, not-for-profit nondoctoral 4-year colleges (table 4). In these colleges, about one-third of the student population (38 percent) was older than typical in 1986, compared with nearly one-half (47 percent) in 1992. As a point of comparison, in 1986, the proportion of older-than-typical students enrolled in private, not-for- profit nondoctoral 4-year colleges was much lower than in the corresponding public 4-year colleges (38 percent compared with 47 percent). By 1992 however, the gap between private and public institutions narrowed to 47 and 52 percent, respectively, a difference that is not statistically significant.

Figure 5a-Percentage of undergraduates with each nontraditional characteristic: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

Figure 5a

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-97 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Figure 5b-Percentage of undergraduates with each nontraditional characteristic: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

Figure 5b
* GED refers to General Education Development exam.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-97 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Table 5-Percentage of independent undergraduates, by selected institutional characteristics: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

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                                              1986*    1989    1992
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            Total                              46.3    48.6    48.3
Level of institution
    Less-than-2-year                           68.8    75.0    73.1
    2-year                                     60.8    64.4    60.1
    4-year or more                             33.8    33.2    35.5
Control of institution
    Public                                     48.7    50.5    49.0
    Private, not-for-profit                    31.5    32.7    37.6
    Private, for-profit                        61.8    68.7    68.3
Institutional type
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                       69.0    74.8    72.3
        2-year                                 62.1    65.0    60.3
        4-year nondoctorate-granting           40.2    38.7    41.4
        4-year doctorate-granting              31.6    30.2    29.5
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                       40.4    50.6    59.5
        4-year nondoctorate-granting           34.2    34.5    41.8
        4-year doctorate-granting              25.8    25.9    27.6
    Private, for-profit                        61.8    68.7    68.3
-------------------------------------------------------------------

* According to 1989 and 1992 definitions of dependency status (see appendix A for details).

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Independent

Unlike older-than-typical students, the overall proportion of students identified as independent of their parents changed little during the time period (figure 5a, table 5). This indicates that the increase among older-than-typical students is occurring among undergraduates under the age of 24 (the age criterion for independence).[22]

[22] The proportion of older-than-typical students among those under age 24 increased from about one-quarter to one-third between 1986 and 1992 (1986-87 and 1992-93 NPSAS Data Analysis Systems).

Table 5-Percentage of independent undergraduates, by selected institutional characteristics: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

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                                            1986*    1989    1992
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            Total                            46.3    48.6    48.3
Level of institution
    Less-than-2-year                         68.8    75.0    73.1
    2-year                                   60.8    64.4    60.1
    4-year or more                           33.8    33.2    35.5
Control of institution
    Public                                   48.7    50.5    49.0
    Private, not-for-profit                  31.5    32.7    37.6
    Private, for-profit                      61.8    68.7    68.3
Institutional type
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                     69.0    74.8    72.3
        2-year                               62.1    65.0    60.3
        4-year nondoctorate-granting         40.2    38.7    41.4
        4-year doctorate-granting            31.6    30.2    29.5
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                     40.4    50.6    59.5
        4-year nondoctorate-granting         34.2    34.5    41.8
        4-year doctorate-granting            25.8    25.9    27.6
    Private, for-profit                      61.8    68.7    68.3
-----------------------------------------------------------------

* According to 1989 and 1992 definitions of dependency status (see appendix A for details).

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Part-Time Enrollment

More than one-third of undergraduates in all three NPSAS surveys reported attending part time in the fall (figure 5a). The changes in part-time enrollment, however, differed from the overall trend, in that part-time enrollment remained stable between 1986 and 1989 (38 and 39 percent, respectively), and increased to 42 percent in 1992.

There was discernible growth in part-time enrollment in private, not-for-profit institutions overall (from 20 to 26 percent between 1989 and 1992) (table 6). The same was true for 4-year institutions overall, where the proportion of part-time students increased from 22 to 25 percent between 1989 and 1992.

Table 6-Percentage of undergraduates who attended part time in the fall, by selected institutional characteristics: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

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                                             1986    1989    1992
-----------------------------------------------------------------
            Total                            37.8    38.7    42.2
Level of institution
    Less-than-2-year                         20.5    21.4    26.8
    2-year                                   60.6    61.9    63.9
    4-year or more                           22.5    21.6    24.9
Control of institution
    Public                                   43.2    44.6    47.5
    Private, not-for-profit                  21.2    19.7    25.9
    Private, for-profit                      16.1    16.5    21.8
Institutional type
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                     29.0    31.3    50.8
        2-year                               63.8    65.4    66.2
        4-year nondoctorate-granting         27.7    26.5    31.1
        4-year doctorate-granting            20.7    19.7    20.4
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                     29.9    21.3    45.9
        4-year nondoctorate-granting         22.4    22.8    28.4
        4-year doctorate-granting            17.6    14.2    18.5
    Private, for-profit                      16.1    16.5    21.8
-----------------------------------------------------------------

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Full-Time Employment

One-quarter or more of undergraduates in all three surveys reported working full time while enrolled (figure 5a and table 7). The proportion of students who reported working full time during the month of October increased between 1986 and 1989 (from 26 to 33 percent), and then declined between 1989 and 1992 (to 28 percent). It should be noted, however, that the differences observed may be partially attributable to differences in the way the questions were asked in the surveys.[23] Comparable data from the Current Population Survey (CPS) did not show any significant changes for the equivalent time periods for members of households who were enrolled and working full time in October (33 percent for both 1987 and 1989 and 31 percent for 1992).[24]

[23] See appendix A for definitions.
[24] Represents household members enrolled in either collegiate or vocational education programs who reported working full time during the week of October at the time they were interviewed. Results for 1987 instead of 1986 were reported here because the former was the first year CPS collected employment information for both collegiate and vocational education respondents.

Table 7-Percentage of undergraduates who worked full time in October, by selected institutional characteristics: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              1986    1989    1992
------------------------------------------------------------------
            Total                             25.6    32.7    27.6
Level of institution
    Less-than-2-year                          20.0    30.8    20.4
    2-year                                    38.8    43.8    38.3
    4-year or more                            16.4    23.3    18.5
Control of institution
    Public                                    27.6    34.5    29.1
    Private, not-for-profit                   18.4    24.6    21.9
    Private, for-profit                       20.5    31.7    22.9
Institutional type
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                      24.1    35.9    34.7
        2-year                                40.2    44.8    38.9
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          19.0    25.7    21.5
        4-year doctorate-granting             13.1    19.9    13.3
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                      18.6    23.6    30.5
        4-year nondoctorate-granting          20.2    28.1    26.0
        4-year doctorate-granting             15.7    19.0    14.9
    Private, for-profit                       20.5    31.7    22.9
------------------------------------------------------------------

NOTE: In each survey, questions about jobs were not asked exactly the same way. See appendix A for details.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Students with Dependents

Among the three survey years, the enrollment of students responsible for dependents other than a spouse was highest in 1989 (at 22 percent) (figure 5b and table 8). Between 1989 and 1992, the proportion of students with dependents declined to the 1986 level of 20 percent. The proportion of students who were single parents (7 percent) did not change at all over the 6 years (figure 5b and table 9).

The change in the enrollment trends of students with dependents was primarily due to changes in public 2-year enrollment where one in three students had dependents in 1989, followed by a decline to about one in four (27 percent) in 1992 (table 8). Paralleling the growth in part-time enrollment, the proportion of students with dependents who were enrolled in private, not-for-profit 4-year nondoctoral colleges grew from 14 to 18 percent between 1986 and 1992.

Table 8-Percentage of undergraduates with dependents other than a spouse, by selected institutional and educational characteristics: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

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                                               1986    1989    1992
-------------------------------------------------------------------
            Total                              19.9    22.2    20.0
Level of institution
    Less-than-2-year                           38.2    43.0    41.6
    2-year                                     28.8    32.3    26.8
    4-year or more                             11.9    12.1    12.1
Control of institution
    Public                                     20.9    22.8    19.9
    Private, not-for-profit                    12.1    13.3    14.8
    Private, for-profit                        31.9    37.9    36.2
Institutional type
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                       41.4    43.9    34.1
        2-year                                 29.3    32.5    26.8
        4-year nondoctorate-granting           15.2    14.9    15.2
        4-year doctorate-granting              10.0     9.5     8.1
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                       20.4    24.1    29.5
        4-year nondoctorate-granting           13.5    15.5    17.6
        4-year doctorate-granting               8.4     7.4     8.1
    Private, for-profit                        31.9    37.9    36.2
-------------------------------------------------------------------

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

Table 9-Percentage of undergraduates who were single parents, by selected institutional characteristics: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

-------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               1986    1989    1992
-------------------------------------------------------------------
            Total                               6.5     7.2     6.9
Level of institution
    Less-than-2-year                           19.9    22.8    23.0
    2-year                                      9.1    10.1     8.8
    4-year or more                              3.4     3.5     3.7
Control of institution
    Public                                      6.3     6.7     6.4
    Private, not-for-profit                     3.6     3.9     4.7
    Private, for-profit                        18.0    21.6    19.4
Institutional type
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                       16.9    15.3    14.0
        2-year                                  9.0     9.7     8.5
        4-year nondoctorate-granting            4.4     4.2     5.0
        4-year doctorate-granting               2.8     2.8     2.5
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                        7.7     9.5    12.2
        4-year nondoctorate-granting            4.0     4.1     5.3
        4-year doctorate-granting               2.1     2.4     2.3
    Private, for-profit                        18.0    21.6    19.4
-------------------------------------------------------------------

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.

GED or High School Certificate of Completion

The only consistent enrollment decline from 1986 to 1992 among the nontraditional characteristics identified in this study occurred for undergraduates with a GED or high school certificate of completion (figure 5b, table 10). The proportion of these students enrolled in postsecondary education declined from 7 to 4 percent. This trend may in part be due to the stricter enforcement of financial aid regulations applied to students in for-profit institutions, where GED recipients tend to be concentrated. Students in these institutions have experienced particularly high loan default rates.

Table 10-Percentage of undergraduates who received a GED or high school completion certificate, by selected institutional and educational characteristics: Fall 1986, 1989, and 1992

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                                              1986    1989    1992
------------------------------------------------------------------
            Total                              7.0     4.9     4.0
Level of institution
    Less-than-2-year                          20.5    14.9    13.7
    2-year                                    10.6     7.6     6.1
    4-year or more                             3.3     1.9     1.5
Control of institution
    Public                                     7.1     4.9     4.0
    Private, not-for-profit                    3.5     2.2     2.0
    Private, for-profit                       17.9    13.0    10.1
Institutional type
    Public
        Less-than-2-year                      19.0    18.3    12.5
        2-year                                10.5     7.4     6.0
        4-year nondoctorate-granting           4.5     2.6     2.0
        4-year doctorate-granting              2.9     1.3     0.9
    Private, not-for-profit
        Less-than-4-year                      12.6     6.6     7.4
        4-year nondoctorate-granting           3.0     2.0     1.7
        4-year doctorate-granting              2.5     1.5     1.4
    Private, for-profit                       17.9    13.0    10.1
------------------------------------------------------------------

NOTE: GED refers to the General Education Development exam.

SOURCES: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), National Postsecondary Student Aid Study: 1986-87 (NPSAS:87), 1989-90 (NPSAS:90), 1992-93 (NPSAS:93), Data Analysis Systems.


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