Nontraditional students are adults, 25 and older, who took time away from academia before beginning or continuing an undergraduate degree. There are a number of reasons why someone would postpone their postsecondary education, each unique to the individual. Some may have gone into the military with the hope of earning their college tuition. Others may have fulfilled a dream of globetrotting before deciding on their future. It may be that some wanted to get married and start families, or they had a sick relative to care for.
Whatever the reason, some students need to postpone college. However, the trend of adults returning to school is on the rise. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of nontraditional students enrolled in undergraduate programs rose 41%; they comprised 38% of all undergrads in 2011. Many of the colleges and universities on our list have degree programs, student associations or academic advisors specifically geared towards nontraditional students.
We created our rankings by first compiling a list of all schools with a nontraditional student body of 25% or higher. Using our standard methodology, we narrowed the list to only those schools that provide a high quality education, quantitatively speaking. In order to trim the list to 50 schools, we then looked at institutions that offered a range of degree programs at the baccalaureate level or higher.
There are some schools that offer online courses or select programs, but many online-only schools don’t report their student demographics, so such institutions weren’t included on our list. If you are interested in online education as a whole, be sure to refer to our list of the 100 best online colleges.
2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.
University of Texas at Dallas
Established in 1961, the University of Texas at Dallas, a branch of the Texas state school system, offers a broad selection of evening and online courses. The college’s most popular programs of study include business, communications and engineering. Extended campus options, such as online study, do not require admission to the university for enrollment, but they offer students the same benefits as traditional attendance. In addition to a full range of traditional courses and degree paths, the college also offers over 40 self-paced online courses students may complete over a five-month span. The University of Texas school system also offers a Business Foundations Certificate to further the career goals of working professionals.
University of Utah
Established in 1850, the University of Utah offers a number courses specifically designed for continuing education students. Mass communication, kinesiology and psychology are a few of the school’s most popular disciplines. To cater to a diverse demographic, the University of Utah offers flexible hybrid and completely online coursework through continuing education programs. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute teaches classes geared toward students age 50 and older. In addition to certifications and professional training, the college offers non-credit courses in gardening, cooking and other hobbies.
University of Massachusetts - Lowell
Over half of the classes offered at University of Massachusetts-Lowell have a 20:1 student-faculty ratio to ensure a high level of interaction with instructors. With a high prevalence of business and social services majors, the college has placed emphasis on hands-on learning and experiential education since 1894. For returning and nontraditional students, there is a wealth of graduate and undergraduate degree options to choose from that are offered in a hybrid or completely online format. The school also offers advisory support specifically for students enrolled in Continuing Education coursework in order to cater to a highly motivated, mature student demographic.
Health, business and liberal arts are the most popular areas of study at Regis University, a private Jesuit institution founded in 1877. Regis has a robust demographic of mature learners and caters to the busy professional student with accelerated programs via the College for Professional Studies. Some students are eligible for these fast-track direct study programs, but other students may choose on-campus or online learning options. Nearly 70% of students attending Regis University receive some form of need-based financial aid, and the college offers career placement assistance and tutoring amenities.
Ohio University was founded in 1804, has a successful track record in sports and offers a broad range of social and recreational outlets. The school recognizes some applicable professional experience as viable college credit, and a consultation with a student advisor can help mature students choose the most fulfilling degree track to suit their needs. Nursing is an especially popular field for Ohio University undergraduates; others include communication, liberal arts and psychology.
Florida International University
Offering more than 200 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, Florida International University is a top ranking southern university for minority students and students continuing their education. Popular areas of study include business, social sciences and psychology. Prospective students may find the variety of hospitality and travel industry degree programs enticing. The college also offers a range of hybrid and online programs for continuing education, professional development, certifications and licensure.
University of Alabama at Birmingham
The University of Alabama, founded in 1969, is well-regarded for its undergraduate programs in healthcare, business, marketing and education. UA offers distance and online learning opportunities for remote study, as well as nontraditional and evening courses for the adult student. In 2014, the school invested in Canvas as the best-in-class teaching tool available to educators today. The university encourages students to become well-rounded, active members of the local community through engagement with peers, leadership opportunities, ministry and other forms of recreation found on and off campus.
Northwest Nazarene University
Established in 1913 as a private college, this university offers a wide-range of programs and services for continuing and mature students. Through the College of Adult and Graduate Studies, adult students may choose from a number of degree completion or master’s programs. Courses are taught with the understanding that adult minds have had time to grow and mature, and they learn differently than those in their late teens. Northwest Nazarene also provides students with job search assistance through a variety of campus-based career center services.
A private school founded in 1869, Augsburg College has a freshmen retention rate of roughly 80%. The school offers over 50 undergraduate degree options and nine graduate degrees, though the most pursued are in business, education, communication and the performing arts. As of fall 2014, nontraditional students may choose from five bachelor’s programs, with a sixth option to create their own degree, geared towards the adult undergraduate. Courses are presented in the hybrid format, so students are given the flexibility they need to fit school into their already busy lives while benefiting from face-to-face instruction.
St. Joseph's College - New York
Founded in 1916, the university offers hands-on courses, an expert faculty with modest class sizes and flexible programs both on and off campus. Personalized counseling is available to all prospective students to ensure they make obtainable, yet ambitious, goals and then realize them. St. Joseph’s provides students with career development resources, such as mentoring or skill development. Dual degree options are available at St. Joseph’s College, in addition to online and hybrid learning for the student with flexible learning needs. The school offers graduate and undergraduate curricula, as well as technical certification opportunities for nontraditional students.
University of St. Francis-Joliet
Founded in 1920, the University of St. Francis is a private Catholic school. The most popular majors include nursing, business and education. The college offers degrees to adults that can be completed online; these include accelerated degree completion programs in business, healthcare and nursing. Another great resource for mature learners is the Prior Learning Assessment Program. For $200, students can earn credit for verifiable college-level experience accumulated in life or in a career.
The University of Alabama in Huntsville
The University of Alabama in Huntsville was founded as a public college in 1950 and became autonomous in 1969. The college offers many distance learning options, including master’s degrees, professional certifications, licensure opportunities and non-credit, career-training classes for students of all ages. Courses can be completed online, on campus or in a hybrid format; course advisors are available to guide mature students to the most ideal program for their needs. With five colleges, 71 degree options and 80 areas of study, students at Huntsville get hands-on training and one-on-one interactions with instructors and professors.
Indiana Wesleyan University
This small, private Christian college places a strong emphasis on diverse and flexible education options for adult learners, who make up nearly 70% of the student body. Students may earn certificates of professional licensure as part of the university’s Adult Education Programs, or they can complete associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral courses of study. Degrees in nursing and healthcare are the most popular at the school; other fields commonly pursued include education, social services and psychology. Applications for adult learners are free and can be completed online.
Lewis University is a private institution that was founded in 1932. The college offers over a dozen adult undergraduate programs, many of them available completely online. Lewis awards continuing education students credit via their Prior Learning Assessment system, allowing students to take proficiency exams or put together a portfolio that demonstrates their credentials and on-the-job experience. A strong PLA portfolio can save degree candidates up to 2.5 years and an estimated $16,000 in tuition. The school also has accelerated programs for highly motivated individuals; specialty advisors familiar with the challenges of mature learners are also available to counsel the adult-student demographic. Popular programs at Lewis include criminal justice, nursing, aviation, business and psychology.
Molloy College is a private school that is consistently recognized as a national leader in academic excellence and high student retention rates. The school places a strong emphasis on experiential learning and champions service learning, internships and other supplemental “lived” experiences. There are over 50 undergraduate and graduate programs available to students, all of which are grounded in the Catholic faith. Students at MC most often enroll to earn degrees in the health professions, education, business and civil service fields. Molloy offers 6-week online courses as part of its continuing education program.
St. Catherine University
Founded in 1905, this private school is committed to educating students who will lead and influence their communities. Approximately 47% of the students attending St. Kate’s are nontraditional, and the college offers flexible certification programs, associate, bachelor’s and graduate level degrees through the Office of Adult Learning. Students who choose to study in nontraditional formats have 18 majors to choose from. The most popular majors offered to attendees of St. Catherine University are in the subjects of nursing, social work, psychology, and business administration.
University of St. Thomas
Founded in 1947, the University of St. Thomas is a private, liberal arts university that is committed to providing students with an education based in the core values of Catholicism. Offering 35 undergraduate and 10 graduate degree programs, most students pursue degrees in business management, biological sciences, liberal arts and psychology. A quarter of the students at the University of St. Thomas are adult learners, and these students participate in traditional course formats alongside their peers. University of St. Thomas boats a 10:1 student to teacher ratio, and approximately 70% of its courses are held with 20 students or fewer.
Roberts Wesleyan College
This Christian-centered, liberal arts school offers traditional and nontraditional students several undergraduate, graduate and continuing education programs. Business and health professions are two of the most popular degrees pursued at RWC. Mature student have the option of completing undergraduate, graduate, certificate programs and degree completion programs online. In applicable courses, an iPad may be included in student tuition as a learning tool for online-only courses.
Mount Vernon Nazarene University
Mount Vernon Nazarene University is a Christian teaching university founded in 1968. Business, education, marketing, public administration and the health professions are popular subjects of study at this academic, faith-based community. MVNU’s philosophy is informed by the Bible and is committed to furthering the teachings of Jesus Christ to both traditional and mature learners in a variety of mediums. Nontraditional students may earn up to 60 undergraduate credits for their life experiences. The school offers intimate classroom settings, with over 70% of classes containing fewer than 20 students.
Bethel College - Indiana
Founded in 1947, this private institution draws many students to business degree programs, although its theology, education and health profession studies are also popular. Nontraditional students have the opportunity to take a Prior Learning Assessment, a measure with the potential to save busy students time and money while earning them credit for their lifetime experiences. There are several associate and bachelor’s programs available at Bethel College, two of which are offered entirely online. Other accommodations for nontraditional students include evening classes in a variety of disciplines.
Founded in 1887, this private university is dedicated to education integrated with a Christian personality. Business, science, social sciences and psychology are among the most popular majors at Campbell University, and the student to faculty ratio is 16:1. For mature learners, there are accelerated online and hybrid degree programs. Students with previous college experience may request an unofficial transcript review to determine which credits will transfer and count towards their new program. The flexible degree opportunities at Campbell University are ideal for many working students and nontraditional learners.
Evergreen State College
Founded in 1967, this public, liberal arts university replaces traditional coursework and disconnected study with interdisciplinary classes surrounding one central theme. The college prides itself on maintaining a high degree of academic rigor while managing to break free of traditional teaching and classroom limitations. Letter grades are not given; instead, instructors write evaluations of students to assess their work. There are no prerequisite classes, and the college offers evening and weekend courses, online learning, a prior learning credit and individual learning contracts to reinforce accountability. Students create their own degree programs by mixing and matching courses from 60 fields of study.
Spring Arbor University
A private institution founded in 1873, SAU is a Christian college committed to scholastic excellence in professional studies, graduate-level learning and the liberal arts and sciences. Teacher education, professional development, business administration, social work and psychology are among the most popular majors offered. Adult and nontraditional students have a number of degree programs, offered either fully online or on campuses around Michigan and Ohio, to choose from. They may also opt to enroll in the Weekend College, which provides select courses at various locations.
Founded in 1952, Eastern University is a private Christian institution dedicated to the study of the arts and sciences. The college places a focus on faith, leadership and service as core indoctrination, and it applies these elements towards the learning experience of its students. The colleges at EU offer students a variety of online options, including a number of programs dedicated specifically to the needs of busy adult undergraduate students. The college’s online coursework ranges from certification and licensure to associate, bachelor’s and graduate study, with opportunities in some degree programs to opt for fast-track learning.
Concordia University - Wisconsin
A private college founded in 1881, the liberal arts and business studies are complemented by the school’s Lutheran emphasis and, thus, its Christian-centered philosophy. Students may pursue a wide variety of graduate, undergraduate, dual enrollment, non-credit and individual courses offered online. Healthcare, Christian ministry, education and business are the most pursued majors at this school. Of particular interest to prospective, nontraditional students is Concordia University’s evening and accelerated programs, which allows busy adults the opportunity to pursue their degree as fast as they can.
A private institution established in 1858, Baker University is proud of its intimate class sizes that promote rigorous scholarship. The student-to-faculty ratio at Baker University is 12:1, and classrooms at this facility fuse liberal arts education with experiential learning to help students become critical-thinking and open-minded individuals. BU understands the needs of the working adult student. For this reason, mature learners can earn undergraduate, graduate and certificate awards through online programs. The school also offers nontraditional, on-campus formats for professional students, such as one-night-weekly class times and accelerated courses of study.
Trevecca Nazarene University
Trevecca Nazarene University was founded in 1901 to serve the Christian community for higher learning. Majors in business, computer sciences, education, health professions and theology attract that highest number of degree candidates. Faith, integrity and authenticity are the tenets of education at this college, and programs for traditional and nontraditional students are available on and off campus. The school offers several programs for adult and nontraditional students who want to complete their degrees. In addition, the college offers several undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs entirely online.
University of Illinois at Springfield
A public institution founded in 1969, the University of Illinois at Springfield is a national leader in the delivery of online education. Over half of the classrooms have fewer than 20 students; the average class size is 15. Popular majors at UIS include criminal justice, business administration, psychology, computer science and communication. Nontraditional students may submit their life experiences for assessment to determine if they qualify for Prior Learning Credits. If approved, students may earn up to four classes worth of credits to apply toward their degrees. Adult students have the opportunity to take advantage of UIS’s many online degree programs.
Established in 1837, this private institution believes its blend of traditional and nontraditional students creates part of the diversity that makes Guilford College so special. Guilford offers adult-specific advisory services and counseling and a learning experience credit for applicable life experiences. Adult students have several degree programs to choose from, and many can be completed entirely during the evenings. Popular majors include business, homeland security, law enforcement, psychology, and biological sciences.
Saint Martin's University
This private, Catholic institution is built on an educational foundation of interaction through faith, reason and service. The student to teacher ratio is 12:1, and 64% of the classes at this institution contain fewer than 20 students. Popular majors include biological and biomedical sciences, business, engineering, education and psychology. Saint Martin’s offers several courses online in a variety of undergraduate disciplines, and presently offers a bachelor’s degree in psychology completely online. Saint Martin’s University values its adult and nontraditional learning community and offers several extended learning solutions for mature and returning students.
University of Montana
Founded in 1893, the University of Montana is a public institution. Proud of its scenic campus and the many quality opportunities for outdoor recreation, the university places a strong emphasis on ecological agriculture, as well as the study of American Indian cultures. The university is proud to combine academics with experiential learning opportunities to produce some of the most celebrated scholars in the United States. The majority of students study business, natural resources and conservation, psychology and the social sciences. Holding its nontraditional and traditional students in the same regard, UM Online offers over 220 distance learning courses and a handful of graduate and undergraduate online degrees.
The College of Saint Scholastica
Founded in 1912, this independent, private Catholic college offers one of the largest nursing programs in Minnesota, as well as a broad selection of undergraduate and graduate degree options. The most popular majors include health sciences and nursing, management and education. The college attributes much of its growth in the past decade to catering more to nontraditional learners and adult students. For this reason, it has extended evening, weekend and online courses. The college prides itself on offering online students the same advantages as on-campus learners and provides e-learners with access to personal advisors and knowledgeable faculty to compliment the small, online class sizes.
CUNY Baruch College
CUNY Baruch College is a public institution that was founded in 1919 and is home to the modern Newman Vertical Campus. This 17-story building in New York City is the school’s answer to urban education and houses research facilities, a student bookstore, television studio, recreational facilities and classrooms. Students have access to over 170 student organizations at CUNY. Classroom sizes are relatively modest at the college, and the student-faculty ratio is 16:1. Finance, sales, accounting, business and psychology are popular majors for undergraduates. Baruch College offers a Division of Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS), which may be of particular interest to nontraditional students.
This school’s mission is to apply unchanging biblical principles to a changing world. The core curriculum at Cornerstone is centered around Civitas (a required core curriculum), information literacy, leadership and a global worldview. Students may choose from more than 60 undergraduate programs and 21 advanced degrees in seminary studies, arts, sciences, professional subjects and theology. For adult learners, courses in the Professional & Graduate Studies programs meet one night a week and use professional learning teams. There are also accelerated program options for nontraditional students interested in on-campus learning. Students may also opt to complete their degrees or course requirements completely online or in a hybrid format.
University of Colorado - Denver
Founded in 1912, this public university offers over 130 programs at the two-year, four-year, graduate and professional levels, and majors such as business, engineering and medicine are popular among undergraduate students. The university hopes, by 2020, to be one of the nation’s leading public universities. Fostering values such as discovery, innovation, leadership and learning, this university awards more degrees than any other institution in the state. Students have the opportunity to complete degrees and certification either in a hybrid format or through online programs. Through UC Denver’s Continuing & Professional Education programs, students have access to more resources and degree completion opportunities.
Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw State University is a public institution and comprehensive university founded in 1963. With over 80 undergraduate and graduate degrees to choose from, business, education, communication and journalism are a few of the popular majors offered at KSU. Students interested in a nontraditional education may find the resources available as part of the Adult Learner Programs particularly useful. Kennesaw also offers 65 career training certificate programs. For further support, there are also online, student-based communities; these forums are available to help learners provide each other with feedback and assistance as they work toward their educational goals.
Primarily a women’s college, this private Catholic institution is widely recognized for its quality liberal arts and professional studies programs. The school boasts intimate classroom sizes, with a student to teacher ratio of only 9:1; 83% of the classes have fewer than 20 students. In an effort to cater to busy adult students, the school offers online, hybrid, and accelerated learning opportunities. Also attractive to working women are the nine rolling start dates students can take advantage of throughout an academic year. Popular majors at Ursuline include studies in the health professions, business management, legal professions and psychology.
Founded in 1893, Montana Tech offers students 60 academic programs of study. Located midway between Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, the Montana Tech campus is proud to offer an average class size of 20 students and a student to teacher ratio of 15:1. Occupational studies are popular at this institution, and sought-after majors include petroleum engineering, business, health and computer systems networking. Colleges at the technical institute are attractive to adult learners for the flexibility of the online courses, as well as the high job placement rate of MTU’s undergraduates.
University of Michigan - Dearborn
Founded in 1959, the University of Michigan-Dearborn is a public institution located on the outskirts of Detroit. The university was built on land donated by the Ford Motor Co., and the historic estate of automotive pioneer Henry Ford is located on the campus. Students at the University of Michigan may enroll in more than 90 areas of study at Dearborn. Through the Return to Learn program, nontraditional students have an opportunity to complete a previously started degree or to pursue an online degree as it fits their schedules.
University of Memphis
Established in 1912, this public institution boasts a student to teacher ratio of 14:1. The school provides a variety of majors and concentrations from which their undergraduate and graduate students may earn degrees. Through the Adult and Commuter Student Services, adult students can find resources, such as an adult scholarship, to help make their time in school more successful. The University of Memphis’s University College is designed for nontraditional students; it allows students to take classes on campus, online or in the hybrid format in order to fit individual schedules.
CUNY Queens College
This college offers more than 100 areas of study to its students. CUNY Queens College caters to the needs of the nontraditional demographic by offering affordable child-care services for student-parents, a Weekend College that offers classes Friday through Sunday, as well as winter and summer sessions. Adult students can enroll in the Adult Collegiate Education (ACE) program, which allows nontraditional students the opportunity to apply life experience towards their degree. Successful applicants into this program can earn up to 36 life achievement credits ― credits awarded to established professionals based on the qualifications and titles they have already earned in the professional world.
Wichita State University
Wichita State University is a public institution founded in 1895. The university’s most popular majors are in business, health, engineering and education. Wichita State believes in experience-based learning and places an emphasis on real-world, work-based learning opportunities for its students, such as internships and co-ops. Adult learners and nontraditional students benefit from the flexible learning options available through online, degree completion and continuing education programs. WSU provides a list of resources for the adult learner to help make the transition back into academia as smooth and easy as possible.
CUNY Brooklyn College
CUNY Brooklyn College is a public learning institution founded in 1930. The college offers many popular majors, and most undergraduates enroll in programs of study such as business, education, psychology and accounting. The student to teacher ratio is a modest 16:1, and many of the classrooms at the university have 20 students or fewer. Administrators at CUNY Brooklyn believe that age, responsibilities at home and employment should not keep students from pursuing their educational goals; flexible programs at the university are designed with this philosophy in mind.
Old Dominion University
Founded in 1930, this public institution provides students with 124 undergraduate programs, 54 graduate programs, 42 doctoral programs and a variety of programs for professionals to choose from. Business, health professions, social sciences and English are some of the most popular majors, and the university has been a champion of distance learning and flexible options for nontraditional students since 1994. According to a student satisfaction survey, 92% of the students who have participated in distance learning through ODU would recommend the program to others.
Emphasizing the liberal arts, this Catholic school accepts students of all faiths who find themselves open to the values of dignity, peace and responsible stewardship. Nursing studies, business, marketing, accounting and exercise science are the most sought-after majors at Marian University. Nontraditional students are an important demographic at Marian. For this reason, the college offers adult programs designed specifically for working adults. The accelerated programs, with nine annual start dates, offer mature learners at Marian University networking opportunities and a chance to gain real-world experience.
Mount St. Joseph University
This college places a high value on scholastic excellence, service, value and experiential learning. Over half of the classrooms at the university have under 20 students, and the student to teacher ratio is 11:1, so students are guaranteed quality interaction with their instructors. Nursing, business, graphic design and biology are some of the popular majors among undergraduates. Adult students at Mount St. Joseph in need of flexible learning options may benefit from the university’s online learning options. The school provides an FAQ for adult learners to make the transition into academia as easy as possible.
University of Indianapolis
Founded in 1902, the University of Indianapolis is a private learning institution that is valued for its relatively small size and focus on academic excellence. Popular majors at the university include liberal studies, nursing, psychology and business administration. The school also offers flexible, accelerated and traditional programs through the School of Adult Learning. On-campus and distance learning opportunities are available, and nontraditional students may participate in a Prior Learning Assessment class, which rewards students with credit based on their professional credentials. Successful completion of this portfolio class could lead to reducing the amount of time in school by one year.
Point Park University
A Point Park education is personalized, with a student to teacher ratio of only 13:1; nearly 75% of the classrooms have 20 students or fewer. Popular majors for undergraduates include dance, drama, business and criminal justice studies. Providing students with flexible learning options is important to the educators at PPU. Day, evening, weekend and online programs are made available in an effort to meet the needs of its traditional and nontraditional students. In addition to online and hybrid courses, Point Park offers track classes in select subjects, which meet on alternating weeks and often have an online component.
This private institution was founded in 1847, and it prides itself on intimate class sizes. Nearly 80% of the liberal arts programs have 20 or fewer students, and the student to teacher ratio is 10:1. There are more than 80 majors, minors and concentrations available for students at this university, and Rockford offers an accelerated online program in business management. Adult learners who qualify may be eligible to complete the BSMS program at little to no cost to them.