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Education Trends: Students by Age Group

April 10, 2015 Digital Media Solutions

Achieving a degree from an institute of higher learning is an accomplishment like no other. Whether it is an associate’s degree or a doctoral thesis, higher education has many paths one can choose. And the seemingly endless possibilities make higher education such a compelling field to study. One of the most interesting things from a marketer’s standpoint is student demographics. The age of students is one topic recently brought to my attention ―something I hadn’t thought about too deeply, yet quickly realized was both an interesting topic and something rarely given the attention it deserves from a marketing standpoint.

The recent economic downturn and subsequent recovery makes this a great time to look a bit deeper into the numbers behind the age of students and potential students. Are middle-aged adults, or even older adults, switching careers? Are these individuals finishing degrees they had started previously? Perhaps they are simply life-long learners looking to fill free time by giving their brains a workout. Regardless of the circumstances, there’s a wealth of data to evaluate.

Drawing from publicly available IPEDS data to determine degree demand and the massive database of education inquiries processed through Sparkroom performance marketing technology to determine inquiry volume and start rates, this review examines graduation rates by age group in order to better understand current student and potential student ages.

Degree Earners – Based on IPEDS data by Age Range & Degree Type for 2013

IPEDS classifies schools into sectors — for example, “private for-profit, 2 year or less”. Each sector, and the schools classified within that sector, were evaluated by degree type and share of degrees earned by age range for 2013.


Students aged 18-24 make up the majority of associate degree earners, but the distribution of graduates varies considerably by school type. Private schools, both for-profit and not-for profit, have a considerable number of graduates aged 40 and above – approximately 17.5 percent. The “private, for-profit, four-year and above” school group has nearly a quarter (23 percent) of its graduates coming from the over-40 set, while public schools have the lowest percentage of graduates for this same age group.


The age group of 18-24 makes up the majority of graduates for private, not-for-profit and public schools of four years and above. Meanwhile, private, for-profit schools have a much lower rate of graduates in the 18-24 range — the age group of 25-39 makes up well over half of their total graduates and the 40-plus group is nearly one third of their graduates.


The age 25-39 group makes up the vast majority of master’s degree graduates at all types of schoolsPrivate, for-profit schools have the highest rate of graduates in the 40-plus age range – more than 42 percent.

Degree Demand – Based on Sparkroom Inquiry Totals and Start Rates by High School Grad Year: 2013-2015

Note: The above chart shows “good” inquiry data (from inquiries not rejected or classified as “bad” due to a variety of reasons). The years of high school graduation were grouped together to get a better feel for the ages of students. Start data from 2015 is not yet fully matured.


The majority of inquiries are from people who have graduated with the past 15 years. Those with a high school graduation year of 2010 or later grew in share from 2013 through 2015 while all other age ranges have remained consistent or slightly diminished. This is likely because the population of this set increased each year (as each year of students graduated). However, it may also be representative of changing demand for “older” students as the economic recovery continues.

Surprisingly, over an eighth of inquiries (17.42 percent) are from prospects over the age of 40 (or 44 to be more precise), who graduated high school in 1989 or before.

Note: Start data from 2015 is not yet fully matured.


Start rates are highest for high school graduates from 2000 through 2009, reaching an average three percent in 2014. The lowest start rates – below one percent – are seen for students who graduated high school in 1979 or prior.

This is all interesting data… but what can you do with it? See how you compare. Are you getting strong volume from those who graduated high school in the years 2000-2009, and are the converting well? If not, perhaps you’ve uncovered an opportunity.

But most importantly, we’re posting this as a reminder to never stop asking questions. Your data can and should be sliced and diced every which way to discover actionable insights. Who has the time? We do! Just reach out to your DMS account executive or contact us via this form.

About the Author

Digital Media Solutions

Founded by a team of lifelong athletes, Digital Media Solutions (DMS), the fastest-growing independent digital performance marketing company. The company’s set of proprietary assets and capabilities in the world of performance marketing and marketing technology allow clients to meticulously target and acquire the right customers. DMS relentlessly pursues flawless execution for top brands within highly complex and competitive industries including mortgage, education, insurance, consumer brands, careers and automotive.

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