New research performed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has created a statistical profile of today’s college students—and university presidents and chancellors may be surprised at the face of their new student bodies. They key finding were that:

62% of students are working either full- or part-time to support themselves
67% of all college students are full-time, non-Pell Grant eligible students at four-year institutions
13% of students attend college/university exclusively online

These numbers reflect a process of modernization that’s not unique to higher education. What’s important to higher education institutions is the fact that failure to adapt to the new status quo will result in fewer applicants, decreasing academic performance, and a disappearance of the ‘traditional’ full-time 4-year degree—all of which would put schools’ sustainability and accreditation at risk.

Why Higher Education Needs to Adapt

With tuition costs on the rise, today’s college students are being forced to work longer hours to support themselves. Rather than working part-time jobs on campus where they can also study (such as checking people in at the gym), many students are working full-time jobs. How is this possible? Many colleges and universities are making an effort to create dynamic programs that are conducted partially or completely online. More flexibility for students is definitely a good thing, but there’s another concern: students that work more than 15 hours a week have less academic success than those working between 10-15 hours. Also, studies have shown that students who work on campus are generally more successful than those who work off campus.

Three Solutions

As colleges and universities struggle to stay afloat, students are increasingly finding themselves in the same boat. With fewer grants and increasing tuition, students will expect schools to address students’ economic and educational needs simultaneously. Here are three strategies to get it done.

• Administrative Change

o Controlling tuition growth and increasing need-based grants
o Connecting students’ workplace and academic experiences
o Changing institutional policies and practices to promote these connections
o Supporting working students with services for academic and social support
o Providing career counseling and assisting with occupational placement (to connect the students’ workplace and academic experiences!)

• Instructional Change

o Working closely with faculty to alter the delivery of instruction so that it gives working students an equal chance of educational success as non-working students
o Supporting faculty members that adapt their instructional approach with the needs of working students in mind
o Ensuring that online course offerings are abundant and taught by the best available faculty members, not just junior faculty

• Coursework Changes

o Offering access to courses, advising hours, and administrative support during nights and weekends
o Investing in online education formats
o Establishing course schedules sooner so that working students can avoid scheduling conflicts
o Offering online course registration
o Providing child-care
o Creating spaces where working students can study between classes and work

To get a closer look at today’s college student, don’t miss a fascinating infographic that recently appeared in The Washington Post.