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Statistical Analysis Report:

Profile of Older Undergraduates: 1989-90

March 1995

(NCES 95-167) Ordering information


This report uses data from the 1989–90 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS:90) and the 1990–92 Beginning Postsecondary Student Longitudinal Study (BPS:90/92) to describe the participation of older undergraduates—that is, undergraduates 24 years or older in postsecondary education. It profiles older undergraduates and compares them with younger undergraduates along a number of dimensions; describes the participation of selected subgroups of older undergraduates; and examines persistence and attainment among older students who enrolled in postsecondary education for the first time in 1989–90. Some of the highlights are as follows:

  • In 1989–90, 42 percent of all undergraduates were 24 years or older (39 percent of males and 45 percent of females).
  • In contrast to their younger counterparts, the majority of older undergraduates were married (56 percent compared with 7 percent) and had dependents other than a spouse (53 percent compared with 4 percent). One-quarter of all female undergraduates in their 30s were single parents.
  • Fifty-nine percent of older undergraduates attended a public less-than-4-year institution, compared with 33 percent of younger undergraduates.
  • About one-quarter of older undergraduates were enrolled in a program that did not lead to a formal award, compared with 14 percent of younger undergraduates.
  • Older undergraduates were predominantly part-time students. Only 31 percent attended full time (in contrast to 73 percent of younger undergraduates).
  • Forty-six percent of all older undergraduates worked full time while enrolled. They were more likely than younger undergraduates to work full time regardless of whether they were enrolled full time or part time.
  • Older students were more likely to work full time or not work at all while enrolled, while younger students were more likely to work part time.
  • Older undergraduates were somewhat less likely than younger ones to receive financial aid (39 percent compared with 44 percent), but were much more likely to receive employer aid (9 percent compared with 1 percent).
  • Among the 46 percent of older undergraduates who worked full time, 85 percent enrolled part time, and about two-thirds selected public less-than-4-year institutions. Sixteen percent of those who worked full time received financial aid from their employers. About one-quarter of the full-time workers who received $1,000 or more in employer aid had incomes of $50,000 or more.
  • Some 9 percent of older undergraduates entered postsecondary education with a GED/certificate, and 3 percent with no high school diploma at all. These students were especially likely to select a private, for-profit institution (16 percent and 36 percent, respectively, compared with 7 percent of older undergraduates with high school diplomas).
  • About three-quarters of the older undergraduates who enrolled in postsecondary education for the first time in 1989–90 perceived themselves primarily as workers rather than students.
  • Among 1989–90 first-time beginners, older students were more likely than younger students to earn a certificate within 9 months (36 percent compared with 25 percent). However, older first-time beginners seeking an associate’s or bachelor’s degree were much more likely than younger degree seekers to leave without completing or reenrolling by spring of 1992 (66 percent versus 40 percent and 46 percent versus 23 percent).

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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education