Adult students are also called adult learners. According to the American Council on Education, adult learners are over the age of 25 and comprise 40 percent of the college student body. While some of those classified as adult learners are graduate students who have gone straight through, many adult learners are returning to school from the workforce. Their motivations are many.

Income Potential

The more education a person has, the more money she may potentially earn. According to the U.S. Census Bureau chart published on the Lorain County Community College website, a high school graduate may earn about $1 million over his lifetime while a person with a bachelor's degree may earn twice that. Her income earning potential continues to rise with more education. A big incentive for adults to return to school is to be worth more money and do better for themselves financially.

Advancement

Some adult learners wish to advance in their current careers and realize they have been promoted as high as they ever will be without additional education. Some of these students go back to school for bachelor's degrees or graduate education, others focus on taking classes specific to their chosen career. Greenville Technical College in South Carolina is just one example of schools that cater to corporate and career development for adult learners.

Career Change

Some adult learners are ready for a career change. While the circumstances leading up to such a decision are as varied as the number of students making the decision, Deborah A. Benedetti writes about adult learner Eric Gayle in Penn State's magazine "Outreach." Gayle served in the Navy and later, as a civilian, was laid off after 10 years in construction. With a wife and three children to support, he realized he was better off choosing a career that required a college education instead of looking for a job for high school graduates. Gayle says that he was not mature enough for college when he first graduated from high school, but by the time he went back to school, he was mature and ready to apply himself to a new career.

Modern Flexibility

The growth of online educational opportunities allows many adult learners to reach their goals. Adults who must work full-time, raise children and have other responsibilities were not able in the past to consider taking the time to go back to school. Sometimes distance is an issue; for example, a farmer living and supporting his family in a rural area was not able, in the past, to drive to night classes in the city because the commute would take too long. Adult learners such as Megan O’Meara Caldwell, also featured in "Outreach," was able to earn her psychology degree online. She says she never set foot on campus until she went to pick up her diploma. The flexibility of online education is a motivator for many adult learners who would otherwise not have access to school.