Giving Compass' Take:

• Andy Van Kleunen, writing The Hechinger Report, discusses why higher education institutions should understand and value the needs of working families enrolled in college courses. 

• Community colleges which serve a high population of working family members often exclude these individuals from relieving financial aid packages which can severely cut off access to education. How can policy interventions help create more opportunities for "non-traditional students?"

• Read more about non-traditional students are the future of education.

The promise of education in America is a promise of opportunity. A promise that education — especially higher education — can offer a pathway to the middle class and an opportunity to build a successful life for yourself, your children and your grandchildren.

The unfortunate reality, though, is that our higher education system isn’t delivering on that promise of opportunity for far too many families, particularly those who choose to pursue career-focused learning in fields that require less than a four-year degree. A major barrier is a bias against working students in our current federal financial aid system.

The conventional view of a college student is someone who just graduated from high school, who is on the verge of turning 18 and moving to a college campus to pursue a full-time, four-year degree. Today’s students, however, tend to be older — nearly 7.6 million college students in 2018 were 25 years or older. And of the 12.1 million students enrolled in community colleges in 2015-16, about 900,000 were 40 or older.

Many are parents — more than one in five, with nearly 4 million raising children while in college. The majority are already in the labor market. Sixty-two percent of all community college students attend on a part-time basis, and nearly three-quarters of them are working either full- or part-time.

All of this means that these students are pursuing higher education while balancing work and family obligations for the explicit purpose of climbing the ladder to prosperity in the job market.

If we truly want to fulfill the promise of opportunity in our higher education system, it’s only fair that we extend federal financial aid to working students who choose to pursue skills training, just as we do to “traditional” students seeking four-year college degrees. This idea is supported by 86 percent of Americans.

Read the full article about higher education needs to include working families by Andy Van Kleunen at The Hechinger Report.