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Colleges for Older and Returning Students

Rankings for non-traditional college students turn up great options for older learners

En español | University of Maryland University College tops a recent list of the best colleges and universities for so-called nontraditional students. The rankings looked at offerings for older students who fall outside the normal range of first-time, full-time degree seekers fresh out of high school or in their early 20s.

The methodology of the list, by college resource website College Factual, gauged the needs of older and returning students, including:

  • Working adults who need additional flexibility in course scheduling
  • Older students who want to take advantage of online learning opportunities
  • Working professionals who want to return to school and use their life experience toward college credit
  • Students coming back to school after dropping out or transferring

Though most of the ubiquitous college rankings available cater specifically to traditional college students, nontraditional students actually outnumber their younger counterparts, according to College Factual, and make up the majority of degree seekers in the United States. The nontraditional rankings included nearly 1,000 schools — representing a mix of online colleges and traditional universities and weighing factors including schedule flexibility, regional accreditation, affordability, percentage of older students among its population and salary expectations after completing a degree.

At chart-topper UMUC, nearly 97 percent of the students are enrolled online. Tuition starts at $289 per credit for Maryland residents and $499 per credit for out-of-state students (plus associated fees). Among the contributing factors to its top ranking were robust offerings for part-time students, flexibility for online learners and a diverse student-body population.

Here are the top 10 schools for returning adults, according to the College Factual rankings:

1. University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, Md.

2. Excelsior College, Albany, N.Y.

3. Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

4. American Public University System, Charles Town, W.Va.

5. Capella University, Minneapolis

6. Ashford University, San Diego

7. Bellevue University, Bellevue, Neb.

8. Thomas Edison State University, Trenton, N.J.

9. Charter Oak State College, New Britain, Conn.

10. Regis University, Denver

To see the full rankings, including state-by-state and regional breakdowns of the best schools for returning students, go here.