Friday, July 01, 2005

The 10 Percenters

About 10 percent of all college students who are enrolled in four-year degree programs aren't members of Generation Whatever:
Although college campuses today are still dominated by 18 to 22 year olds, the number of older undergraduates has grown sharply in the past several decades. Today, roughly one in 10 students enrolled in bachelor degree programs are 30 years old or older.

The reasons for this growth in mature matriculation are complex. In today's information economy, many workers discover they need a bachelor's degree for entry-level white-collar jobs. Others want to change careers, enrich their lives or pursue a degree that they had set aside because of illness or addiction.

The aging of the population and the precariousness of Social Security and many pension plans have also prompted some retirees to return to college to stay active in their senior years or ensure they will not be impoverished in old age.
Here is the story of one retired sheriff's deputy from Colorado who attended prestigious Wellesley College in Massachusetts:

Linda Knight's two-and-half years at Wellesley were filled with trying moments. Many students ignored her the first several weeks of class, until they understood she wasn't a local retiree taking classes for fun. Carrying a backpack across Wellesley's hilly campus worsened her arthritis, and the stress of schoolwork prompted her to double her blood pressure medication.

Knight put her college education aside after she married, had a family and went to work. After her children grew up and her husband died, she discovered she needed a goal in retirement. But there was something more personal. "My mother was very disappointed I didn't finish college," Knight said. "I always felt guilty."

Knight's case illustrates the difficulties encountered by returning students who have postponed getting a bachelor's degree for a long period of time. As they enroll in colleges across the country, many older students -- like their younger counterparts -- face going deep into debt. At the same time, many are also maintaining a job, keeping up their studies, and raising a family at the same time.

Not finishing school a second time is always a concern for these returnees, although figures on how many actually leave again are difficult to find. At times, the stress of college seemed too much for Knight, but she said, "I wouldn't quit, because I finish what I start and I didn't want my children to see me quit."

Knight says she often felt like she was at advantage in a high-pressure college climate, because she was able to call on her life experiences and observation of criminal behavior to analyze subjects like moral philosophy. Plus, she didn't have to contend with the typical distractions that derail many a college career -- excessive partying, romantic entanglements and skipping classes.

At Wellesley College, which has a Davis Scholar program for students over the age of 24 that enables them to get the same degree as traditional-age students, Tracy Tully, the coordinator of Continuing Education, said the college seeks to provide a strong support system to help older students handle the hardships.

Linda Knight received her bachelors degree on June 2nd. She plans to return to Colorado and do volunteer work.
View the latest edition of the Carnival of Education (as well as entry instructions) right here.

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