Living Expenses a Bigger Burden for Older College Students

Students over age 25 — who make up one-third of the college population — have much higher living expenses, take longer to graduate and rack up more debt, according to a new report

Housing costs can sometimes push older college students to the brink, and often mean the difference between finishing school and dropping out. - Photo: AdobeStock
Photo: AdobeStock
Housing costs can sometimes push older college students to the brink, and often mean the difference between finishing school and dropping out.

Students over age 25 — who make up one-third of the college population — have much higher living expenses, take longer to graduate and rack up more debt, according to a new report.

A study from the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality found students at four-year colleges pay two-and-a-half times more for living expenses than they do for tuition — and those at two-year colleges pay four times as much.

Senior Director of Adult Programs with the organization College Now Greater Cleveland, Julie Szeltner explained that older students are much more likely to be married and have children to support.

"The whole system is based on a dependent student who's 18 years old and leaning on his parents," said Szeltner. "So, when we talk about getting more adults into school and getting those degrees, it's really, really challenging, and finances is a big piece of that."

The research found housing costs are so burdensome they push some older students to the brink. Nearly 18% of students ages 25 to 45 experience or are at risk of homelessness, compared with about 4% of younger students.

Szeltner explained subsidized and non-subsidized student loans can be lifelines for older adults, even though they aren't always an ideal option.

"Many adults are not interested in getting further into debt," said Szeltner. "And we see lots of people who will just pay one class at a time out-of-pocket, rather than take loans out. But there's very few scholarships for adults."

Another challenge, Szeltner said, is that student-loan debt can prevent older adults from returning to college to complete an unfinished degree.

"That is a big problem that we're facing," said Szeltner. "And a lot of schools are finding dollars to forgive that institutional debt to re-enroll people. They still have to, hopefully, get enough financial aid to go but that institutional debt is a big barrier."

It's estimated the student loan-default rate is three times higher for borrowers who didn't complete their degree compared to those who did.

This story was produced in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the George Gund Foundation.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Newsletters

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.