The Future of Higher Education: What’s the Life Course Got to Do with It?

  • Richard A. SetterstenJr.Email author
  • Barbara Schneider
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Recent decades have brought dramatic changes to both human lives and higher education. This chapter examines what changes in the life course mean for higher education, and vice versa. We address the relevance and vitality of higher education in the contemporary life course, as well as its potential for offsetting the life-course risks and discontinuities faced by the diverse populations it now serves. We describe how higher education can play more significant roles in responding to the vulnerabilities of students, strengthening the transition to adulthood through stable pathways to jobs and careers, fostering relationships and networking opportunities, and refining the boundaries of personal and financial independence from parents. Higher education can also be reimagined by infusing into curricula and learning experiences a broader set of skills than it now does—skills that are less about securing jobs and salaries, and more about finding meaning in and managing the uncertainties and complexities of adult life. It can also be reimagined by reaching potential students who are in midlife and beyond. These goals are necessary if higher education is to have both stronger effects on the life course as well as a bigger place in the life course.


Older college students Institutional responses to older adults Businesses’ involvement in higher education Importance of non-cognitive skills for college success Prototypical models of college 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Public Health and Human SciencesOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  2. 2.College of Education, Department of SociologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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