This article paints a comprehensive portrait of the demographic, financial, and educational characteristics of Pennsylvania postsecondary students who are adult learners, and identifies rural-urban differences within this group. The study analyzed data from the 2010-11 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (n = 610,925), supplemented by interviews with two policy experts and six financial aid administrators at rural postsecondary institutions. Adult learners differed from younger students on all measures and experienced more disadvantage. Economic hardship was pronounced: Adult learners’ mean annual family income was less than half that of traditional-age students, and 60% lived in poverty or near-poverty. Salient rural-urban differences included institutional type, parental education, marital status, dependent children, and income. Together, quantitative and qualitative data revealed that adult learners have distinct economic situations (employment status, income), family obligations, and enrollment patterns (e.g., part-time study, short-duration degree programs). Thus, they need different forms of support and financial aid.
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