University was once the domain of the young. Those who did not enrol right after high school were unlikely to ever earn a degree. There were always exceptions – people who went back to school after raising children or retiring, or those who attended university part-time for personal enrichment, but often these students found campus life difficult, as the universities catered primarily to the needs and interests of teenagers and twenty-somethings.
Today, many of us continue to think of the adult learner as an anomaly, and many older students may have been reluctant to even consider returning to school for fear that they might not fit in or that it would be difficult for an older person to get back into the habit of learning.
If you believe that adult students are a novelty, then your perceptions are no longer accurate. According to the American university and college information site, Super College.com [see: http://www.supercollege.com/channel.cfm?loc=8&t=4 ], “today more than 25% of all students on college campuses are over the age of 35. Many adults are going back to college to enhance their career or make a career change.”
Canada’s own “Ultimate University and College Info-Site”, UC411.COM [see: http://www.uc411.com/adult1.asp] offers words of encouragement to prospective adult students:
So you’ve decided to go to university or college:Congratulations. You won’t be alone. Today’s college campuses are full of people just like you — working adults who want to keep learning. Two out of five college or university students today are age 25 or older.
UC411 also offers resources and information to help “adults realize their college dreams,” and they also debunk a number of myths regarding adult education, including [as paraphrased from the UC411 website]:
Myth: Education doesn’t translate into increased earnings.
Reality: The average earnings for bachelor’s degree holders is 50 percent higher than the average earnings of those with a high school diploma.
Myth: College is for young people.
Reality: Forty percent of university and college students are 25 years of age or older: most universities and colleges have structured programs and services specifically for adult learners.
Myth: Going to school part-time, you’ll never complete a degree.
Reality: One of the ways that institutions have accommodated adult learners is by devising alternate schedules that allow students to complete more classes in the same amount of time. :
Resources like UC411 are just a small portion of the assistance available for adult learners. Many university campuses now have programs, centers and organizations specifically catering to adult students’ needs.
The University of Wisconsin – Fox Valley [see: http://www.fox.uwc.edu/admreg/returnlearn.html] offers a number of services specifically geared toward adults, including: an advisor specializing in the needs of returning students; one-to-one assistance in the application and admission process; individualized career and academic planning assistance; morning, afternoon, or evening class times; free tutoring and study skills help; child care; and even a Returning Adult Student Organization.
Wisconsin is not the only university to have a student’s organization specifically for their adult students: the Indiana University – Southeast has an Adult Student Center and a Non-Traditional Student Union [NTSU], “designed to network students enrolled in college after being out of school for some time.” [see: http://campuslife.ius.edu/foradults/adults.cfm?area=4].
Due to the increasing numbers of adult students, universities everywhere are not only beginning to recognize the special needs of these students, but they are going out of their way to help older students return to school. Super College notes that universities now “recognize that adults [sic] students have special needs, that they are an important market, and that they may need extra encouragement to return to school.”
Institutions are recognizing that the market for adult students is huge, and to attract this new kind of student schools are emphatic in proclaiming themselves Adult Education specialists.
Schools like Vincennes University in Indiana [See: http://www.vinu.edu/conted/] have a majority of mature students. They offer these words of encouragement to those who are considering returning to school after a long absence:
The longer you’re away from school, the harder it is to go back. Work, children, spouse, home — even the family pet seems to take priority: Almost 80 percent of our part-time students are over the age of 21. That’s four of every five students! And most of them hadn’t tackled homework or taken a test in years. At VU you’ll : meet faculty members who understand that you have to juggle classes and other responsibilities. They realize that adults face a different set of fears than the traditional-age student.
The University of Illinois at Springfield [UIS] [see:http://www.uis.edu/admissions/adults.html] promotes themselves as “adult education experts,” and they achieve this by realizing that “as an adult undergraduate, you have different needs than the typical 18 to 22-year-old. You want information that matters: how can I efficiently and cost-effectively finish my degree? How can I gain on-the-job experience in my chosen career, while balancing classes, work and family? How can I take my life to the next level?”
Rather than expecting adult learners to fit into the traditional, youth-oriented student model, UIS offers caters directly to adult needs by offering services that they know adults require, such as evening classes; on-line classes; superior advising; internships/job experience; and convenient registration, library hours and services
These are only a few examples of how universities are beginning to change how they do business in order to satisfy the needs of adult students. No longer are returning students a novelty on campuses, but rather they have become a significant portion of the student body, and a source of significant revenue for universities. Even younger students have the potential to become lucrative life-long learners, and it is in the best interest of universities to encourage adult students by offering services and programs that will attract them. This means that adults no longer have to limit themselves to non-credit personal interest classes or conform their lives to those of responsibility-free teenagers, but rather they can have rich and complex lives while continuing to learn at the highest level.
Another approach to answering the needs of adult learners is being offered by the University of Calgary, in Alberta. The U of C [see: http://www.ucalgary.ca/UofC/students/101/additionalorientations.html] encourages mature students through a special orientation for adults, covering themes including coping, transitions, and dealing with uncertainty. These group orientations allow students to “be placed in a group with other adult students: led by an adult student leader : with an adult student advisor.”
The mature student is no longer second-rate. Today, universities are lining up to compete for our registrations, and more and more, campus life is expanding and changing to embrace students who balance school with family, jobs, and other responsibilities.
Tamra lives in Calgary with her husband and two cats. A fulltime AU student, she splits her free time between her duties as an AUSU councillor, writing her first novel, and editing written work by other students and friends.