Who Are Today’s Students?

Studying full-time, living in dorms, and hanging out on the quad, right? Think again.

Today’s students come from all walks of life, bringing unique strengths and needs. They are parents, working adults, veterans, online students and first-generation college-goers, following new pathways through higher education. They need a system that is flexible, affordable and responsive to their needs. But we still rely on policies designed for yesterday’s students and the last century’s economy.

With your help, we can start to change that.

Think you know who today’s students really are?

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Today’s students are more diverse than any previous generation of college students and follow many pathways through higher education. See how well you know today’s students.

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Find out why policy needs to change to work for today’s students.

Paths through College

The Traditional Path through College

The traditional path to college was straightforward and linear: a student would finish high school and immediately start studying at a four-year college or trade school, enter the workforce or join the military.

Today’s Students, New Pathways

Instead of going to, and finishing, college directly after high school, many of today’s students are returning to get additional education and training while working and raising families or changing careers.

A Day in the Life of Today’s Student

Today’s students no longer spend their days playing frisbee in the quad between classes and spending summers away from their studies. While studying to earn their degree, many of today’s students are:

  • Parenting or caring for other family members
  • Working full or part-time
  • Taking an online course or studying at night
  • Commuting between school, home, and work
  • Dealing with food, housing, or income insecurity

Find out why policy needs to change to work for today’s students.

Quick Facts on Today’s Students

Get up to speed on who today’s students really are with these need-to-know data points.


Adult Learners:



of today’s students are older than 25.

Part-Time Students:



of students are part-time.

First-Generation Students:



of undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college.

Family and Finances

Low-Income Students:



are at or below the federal poverty level.

Independent Students:



of students are financially independent.

Student Parents:



of students are raising children while studying.


Students of Color:
African-American student enrollment grew



between 1996 and 2020, while Hispanic enrollment grew by



Life and Work

Working Students:



of students work while in college.

More than


post-9/11 veterans have used G.I. Bill benefits to complete their degrees.




of students live on campus.