In a comment on his post Growing evidence that lectures disadvantage underprivileged students, Mark Guzdial wrote,
I realize that adult learning is difficult to fit into our culture and work lives, but one could imagine a scenario where it might fit. Lifespans are much longer today. There is enough time for more than one career. Maybe we might work until (say) 45, then take a 3 year sabbatical to re-train, then launch into a second career into one’s 70’s or later. What might be learned in “second college”? How would college be different with more mature learners? What are the inherent limitations of having much older learners, and what are the inherent advantages of having learners who have 20+ years of real world experience?
Our grad program has had several “re-entry students” in their 40s and 50s who came back to college to get a PhD. Some of them had been in industry doing computer programming, VLSI design, or engineering management for decades before getting bored with it and wanting to do something that used their skills more productively. Many of these students have done very well, both in the degree program and in their subsequent careers. (One of the younger ones, who was only 41 or 42 when getting the PhD, is now a full professor, for example.)
I don’t see many limitations to having much older learners—there may be fewer all-night study sessions, but there will also be less need, because there will be less procrastination about deadlines. Community colleges have been accepting older adults for decades (since the big growth of community colleges in the 1960s), and have had a lot of experience with them. What I’ve heard is that the mature adult learners tend to be much more consistent and reliable than teens and barely post-teens who make up the undergrad population, but that many of them have lives outside of college, and can’t do more than one course at a time.
I don’t think that I’ll go back to grad school when I retire, but I am likely to take community college courses on subjects that my education is weak on (most likely hands-on skills like welding or art classes).