New Research Illuminates the Value of Education for Adult Learners

Published on Jul 21, 2022

Updated on Mar 8, 2023

Written by Remie Verougstraete

How can higher education create a new source of enrollment for colleges and universities, a new source of skilled talent for employers, and new pathways to prosperity for individuals and communities?

By enrolling and educating more working adult learners.

In fact, as of 2021, there were around 96 million adults in the U.S. with a high school degree who had not completed higher education compared to just 3.6 million who graduated high school that year. And new research shows those adults can see a 22% greater chance of upward mobility if they choose to return to school.

That’s just one of the key takeaways from Moving Up and Moving Forward: Advancing Mobility for Adult Learners, a new research report from Lightcast.

Based on a data set of 125 million online career profiles, Moving Up and Moving Forward examines real-world educational choices and professional pathways to answer critical questions about working adult learners, including:

  • Clarifying who adult learners are, including their demographic characteristics and professional background

  • Quantifying the value of educational investment by assessing its impact on adult learners’ career trajectories and economic mobility

  • Identifying keys to success by pinpointing the types of institutions, programs, and occupations that lead to the best outcomes for working adult learners.

Key findings

Here are three key findings from the report:

1) Adult learners see significant benefits from higher education, including a 22% greater likelihood of achieving upward mobility and an impressive 140% greater increase in average annual salary compared to working adults who do not return to school.

2) While bachelor's degrees generally lead to greater earning growth, associate’s degrees in certain technical fields like engineering and health are linked to higher rates of upward mobility than some bachelor’s degrees.

3) Women are less likely to study subjects like engineering technology and math, despite having a greater likelihood of achieving upward mobility when they do so. 

Similarly, some demographic groups are more likely to achieve upward mobility when studying majors like computer science and health, but are less likely to enroll in those majors.

Get the full report

A better understanding of adult learners — and the key factors contributing to upward mobility — is critical for designing and marketing programs that work for workers. 

Visit the report page or complete the form below to see how your institution can grow enrollment by putting more working adults on the path to prosperity.

Fill out the form to get your copy of Moving Up and Moving Forward.