Excused Absences: Going Back To School
Earlier this month, we wrote about how NPR was reporting that 10 percent of students who are enrolled in bachelor's programs are over 30 years of age. CNN is also interested in older collegians, what the schools themselves refer to as "non-traditional" students:
Nontraditional students roughly equal traditional students among U.S. undergraduates today, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. They're the majority at many two-year community colleges, Sygielski said, and about 75 percent of Lord Fairfax's enrollment.I think that it wonderful that so many folks are going back to school to earn degrees in order to to train for new jobs. But I think that it's tragic that so much of our country's manufacturing base has been fleeing offshore to countries that force their workers to labor in "sweatshop" conditions. How can American workers compete with Chinese laborers who often earn fifty cents per hour or less? What makes this situation even more tragic is the fact that oftentimes, companies receive a government subsidy (in the form of tax deductions) to export decent-paying American jobs offshore.
"Many students no longer do the four-year-and-out route through college," said Mike Bowler, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Services, in Washington. "It's not unusual now to see people waiting to enter college until they're 30 and 40 years old."
Some served a hitch or more in the military. Others are divorced or widowed, retired or newly employed and seeking more training. Some seek self-enrichment -- auditing coursework without piling up credits. Most spend long hours sweating for paychecks.
Then there are the mid-career folks who awaken one morning without jobs. Yvonne Comeau of Mount Jackson worked at the Wrangler Jeans Co. when it closed its plant in Woodstock in December 2002, resulting in the loss of some 200 jobs.
"I had just turned 50 when they announced they were shutting down," Comeau said. "I was a 'crotch joiner' at the time. Imagine putting that on a resume."
She was terrified at the thought of returning to school but knew she would be able to squeeze by financially with the help of a federal grant. She quickly got her high school GED certificate and began working on an associate degree at Lord Fairfax.
"I had sat in a factory 25 years being told I wasn't smart enough to do anything but work a sewing machine," Comeau said. "Nobody wanted to hear my ideas or thoughts. When I went back to college, I learned you're expected to speak up in class and express an opinion. It absolutely blew me away. All of a sudden I realized I've got more than just a pair of hands."
Comeau, named Outstanding Graduate of the Middletown campus, intends eventually to earn a bachelor's degree.
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