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September 08, 2016

Weber State University in Utah ranks No. 1 in Washington Monthly’s Best Colleges for Adult Learners (2 Year Colleges) list. (Courtesy of Weber State)

With school back in session, many high school juniors and seniors are beginning to look at colleges, many of them paging through college guides like the Princeton Review.

But the vast majority of college students in this country are adults who struggle to balance work and family responsibilities.

That's why this year Washington Monthly magazine is out with a different kind of college ranking - one that, for the first time, ranks the best two- and four-year colleges for adult learners.

Editor Paul Glastris recently sat down with On Campus’ Kirk Carapezza and explained why his magazine decided to rank colleges that serve adults.

Interview Highlights:

On choosing to focus the ranking system on adult learners:

I could argue that adult learners -- students that are 25 years or older -- are the biggest underserved group in higher education. They are in excess of 40 percent of all undergrads, and that number is growing. Still, they’re kind of an afterthought for most colleges. Colleges are designed for people who recently graduated high school -- we think of dorms, we think of dinner halls, quads ,and so forth. Adults learners have completely different needs. They need to have afternoon and evening and online classes because they’re working and taking care of families and very few colleges offer that. 

On what makes a good school for adults:

We looked for three things:

1. Are they recruiting and teaching a lot of adults? The higher the percentage of adults the better they did on our rankings.

2. What were their outcome measures? There’s new data from the federal government that gives us the average earnings of students 10 years after they start at a particular school and their loan repayments rates.

3. There are a whole host of measures on the services provided that are important to adult learners. For instance: evening, weekend and online classes, on-campus daycare, and special benefits for veterans.

On why many of the schools on the lists are public:

A lot of them were set up with the mission of focusing on adults. Others are seeing that as the adult student population increases, the market is for adults -- that’s where the growing market is.

On whether it’s in schools’ best interest to serve adult populations:

Yes. Unfortunately there are a lot of things that are in schools’ best interest that schools don’t do because of various institutional reasons, political reasons, budget reasons. Change is hard. We’re hoping that by publishing this list, we’re highlighting what the best schools are doing and what other schools can aspire to do and also to kind of let decision-makers and citizens and policy makers know that designing courses and services for adults is possible. There are schools out there doing it. Hey, why aren’t our local schools doing it?

>> Editor's note: Interview and interview highlights have been edited for length and clarity

Related: Working Stiff: Community College Students Struggle To Balance Jobs And School 

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