Older students are returning to college, hoping to complete degrees that will qualify them for better jobs, reports The Missourian. But the road to a degree is long and bumpy for mid-life students.
At 36, Roger Smith is a full-time health sciences major at University of Missouri with hopes of a nursing career. His wife and 19-year-old son are community college students.
Mid-life students such as Smith juggle school projects, homework and midterm exams with household chores, paying bills and putting food on the table. They sit in college classrooms surrounded by 19- and 20-year-olds, then go home to spouses and children of their own. They put themselves in debt, deferring sleep and material luxuries for the promise of more security.
In 2006, an estimated 6.7 million older adults were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. That’s nearly triple the number enrolled in 1970.
A high school graduate, Smith installed water filtering systems until he injured his knee, which required surgery. He worked as a garbage truck driver, a school bus driver and a semi driver, but recurring knee injuries put him on disability. “No longer able to do hard labor, he wasn’t qualified to do much else,” reports The Missourian.
With four years at a community college, but no degree, Smith enrolled at MU in August 2007. His wife, Aquita, began taking classes at Moberly Area Community College, also studying health sciences, in 2007. She receives a Pell Grant. The Smiths’ oldest son, 19-year-old Rogerick, also is studying at Moberly. Because he’s partially blind, he receives disability funding. The Smiths have two younger children and two elderly parents at home.
Finding time for both school and family or work commitments is one of the biggest challenges for adults returning to school, according to a 2006 study from Capella University, an online university based in Minneapolis.
. . . Aquita Smith has been frustrated that the community college doesn’t seem to accommodate nontraditional students. She sometimes must miss class because of her kids, and this creates problems when professors enforce strict rules about late assignments and don’t post notes online.
“We deal with different stuff than younger students do,” she said.
With both parents in school, there’s less free time for the family, said Rogerick. “I think it’s a good thing, though. They just want us to have what they never had growing up.”