In a few weeks, more than one million students in the United States will start their first year at a college or university. Traditionally, students complete high school in June and go on directly to college.
Traditional students will not hold a job while they work toward a degree. They will depend on the financial support of their parents. Or, if they do hold a job, they will work only part time.
During a recent school year, though, only about one in four college undergraduates in the United States could be considered "traditional." The National Center for Education Statistics says most students faced more difficult conditions.
These nontraditional students were likely to be older than others. They worked full time. Some supported families.
Nontraditional students are less likely to have earned a degree or still be in school after five years. They may not have enough money. They may have to seek loans or other aid to complete their education. This is true even at public colleges that cost less than private schools.
And another tradition has changed. In nineteen-seventy, a little more than forty percent of undergraduates were female. Now a little more than forty percent of undergraduates are male.
Nontraditional students may have trouble combining work and school. They may have difficulties getting child care. Older students who have been out of school for years may find it hard to study again.
Some Americans try to solve these problems by attending two-year community colleges. These offer many classes on nights and weekends. Students can later go on to complete their studies at a four-year college if they choose.
The Department of Education says about eleven-million people attend community colleges, including technical schools. These teach skills for jobs such as computer programmer or heating and air-conditioning technician.
Still other people choose schools designed especially for working adults. Strayer University, for example, holds classes in twenty-three places in the United States. Students can also do all their work online by computer.
Students can work toward undergraduate or graduate degrees. And, as at many other schools, they can also complete short programs of study. Instead of a degree, they receive a certificate upon completion.
This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson.