Almost 40% of undergraduate students are over 25
Jocelyn Ramirez’s schedule serves a good illustration. In her early twenties, she is responsible for working at a nursing home, attending classes, and bringing up her own children. Jocelyn is one of many students in many colleges who are trying today to maintain a balance between all these duties.
For many years, a typical stereotype of college students was that of 18 – 22-year-old green half-adults pushing through the crowds on the way to their dorm from lecture halls. Though nowadays, it’s different, and typical college students tend to be more like Erin Jones.
Erin is a 37-year-old veteran and at the same time a single mom who attends her classes several days a week. After military and the workforce services, Jones made a decision to become a student once more and started attending her nursing classes. Doing this, she wanted to ensure her and her children’s future and that one day she would earn enough for all of them to live comfortably and needlessly.
Being a student of Mount Wachusett Community College, Jones hustled to get some grant-aided childcare and housing, although it wasn’t always as easy as it looked at first sight. Jones says that a few months, when she was paying for her son’s private day care, while he was waiting for a subsidized help, were so financially exhausting that she went completely bankrupt.
And still Jones asserts that in spite of the time and money spent on studies and all struggles of feeling odd and awkward from being the oldest student in her class, getting back to college was worth all that.
The lady also says that it seemed like her eyes got open and once more she was reminded that she was smart and capable, though she still had to put a lot of efforts to finish what she started. She was also surprised to find out that many support options were pretty easy to get, but also there were those that she could hardly get.
As a rule, it doesn’t look like an American Pie-style movie or any glossy brochure: many students like Jones have been wondering around college campuses in crowds of other students for quite a time. Almost 38% of undergraduates are under 25, while 58% combine studies with work, and over one-quarter have children. A lot of students fit each of these categories. Many students attend community colleges or less respective regional public schools — not obligatory royal courts which we usually imagine. In fact, the Lumina Foundation data states that social entities work on increasing the number of Americans with a degree in higher education.
Kim Cook, the executive director of the National College Access Network, which aims at raising access for studying in colleges, states that people have a romantic idea that students come to college right from their high school graduation. It can be so for some people or rather was considered a norm few decades ago, but it is not today’s case.
What are the reasons for such a change? Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, says that the process of post-high school education as a primary qualification for getting a job started in the early 1980s with a long economic shift. Thus, students rushed into colleges to get the skills needed to fit into modern conditions of the new economy.
In spite of the change in college campuses’ appearance, many educational institutions were too slow to respond adequately to the needs of the students of a new type. This can partially be explained by a strong desire of many schools to compete with such prominent models of higher education as, for example, elite residential colleges. The reason is that these institutions attract wealthy students.
How students balance kids, work, and school
As numerous colleges nowadays still pander students of the age between 18 and 22, it is quite stressful for the students of a different age group to manage personal life and studies.
Some people find it really hard to balance full-time work with school. Carnevale also argues that the absence of flexibility is the result of the rise of new prestige colleges within the last decade. Although the education of such kind is considered subpar by many educators, for-profit colleges give night classes as well as online classes being concerned about the needs of those students who are not just come and go, but truly want to get education.
To manage effectively work, studies, and family duties became one of the greatest challenges of attending college for Estephany Rodriguez. She decided to get a degree after military service in order to be able to earn a better living. The 27-year-old lady says that she had worked really hard and a moment came that she decided to continue her education.
As a rule, Mrs. Rodriguez gets up at 6 a.m. to help her kids to get ready for school and goes to bed at around 3-4 a.m. after completing her homework. All the rest of the time she spends attending classes, working full time as a line cook and helping her kids with their home assignments. In spite of such tough time, the young lady has already got her associate’s degree and now she’s pursuing bachelor’s degree in nursing.
With the increased number of parenting students, child care access has become harder to get. In fact, the quantity of campus child-care centers decreased from 1,314 to 1,128 (about 14.2% from 2004 to 2012) as the Institute for Women’s Policy Research states. Barbara Gault, the vice president of IWPR, argues that it hasn’t been a part of the college program to ensure a safe place for children to stay in when their parents are studying. She also adds that child care centers on campuses appeared as a favor for some parents in their needs.
In addition to this, parents will soon face even more difficulties while looking for an affordable child care center outside the campus. To resolve the issue, there was proposed a new budget plan, which aims at providing on-campus childcare to parenting students with low income.
Nontraditional students’ challenge with college affordability
Probably the more serious challenge that our so-called “nontraditional students” are faced with today and which appears as an acute problem to this group is the costly studies in colleges. For some reason, the country’s disinvestment policy in higher education has increased tuition at many institutional affiliations.
Hadass Sheffer, the president of the Graduate Network (an organization created for the purpose of increasing the number of adults in colleges), asserts that many of these overaged students failed to navigate the financial aid system without professional guidance or any other sources previously available to students. She also says that it doesn’t even come to their minds to apply for federal help. If adults think of assistance from any possible side, they always rely on their families or some influential acquaintances.
In case this group of students send applications for state financial support, they can hardly be discouraged by its practical aid. This can be explained by the fact that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (also known as FAFSA) form, widely used by colleges, determines whether a certain student is eligible for financial help not even considering other expenses such as, for example, wages lost from leaving a job or missing work for college.
Barbara Gault also encourages colleges to offer their assistance by providing working or parenting adult students with a detailed description of colleges’ financial aids as well as with the FAFSA requirements. This can help perspective students get to know better how much assistance they can receive in order to be able to study. “Nontraditional students” should also be assertive and proactive and try to share their complete financial situation with colleges they study in.
Moreover, such students often make attempts to get enrolled in a college with a harsh financial track record from previous colleges. In fact, as Sheri Gonzales Warren, the community, economic and workforce development program director and its overseer in the Mid-America Regional Council, stated, over 14% of students applying for KC Degrees (a program which aims at helping grown-up students in the Kansas City area to attend college) have been refused to get student loans. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York said that almost 11% of student loans are illegal. Some other adult students enter the program with their copies as they couldn’t afford to pay all the bills to the schools they left. Another concept the program aims to fulfill, as Warren said, is that the staff will hold negotiations with other colleges and will arrange payment plans the way adults will be enabled to continue their studies.
Reason for mature students in colleges
In spite of all these difficulties, Warren assures that many colleges and businesses of her region got their eyes open and now can see clearer this group as the one worth investing in. She also noted that some of the schools agree to delay application fees or they just offer scholarships to the returning aged students. Considering the decline in investments as well as domestic and international enrollment, adult students are seen by schools “as a golden opportunity.”
Some other regions regard this from the same perspective. Tennessee’s governor, for example, decided to get 55% of his state’s adults with a college degree or at least a certificate by the year 2025. This plan got the name “Drive to 55” as its author has made program’s executives to consider critically the best way to serve overaged and grown-up students who want to attend college. Jessica Gibson, the assistant executive director for adult learner initiatives at Tennessee’s Higher Education Commission, said that they were sure that “the Drive to 55” campaign could hardly be realized if traditional students were its main focus.
2016 was marked by the project launched by the Tennessee Reconnect Communities. Its main objective is to give a helping hand for adults while they are navigating the process of sending applications to colleges and lining up their financial and personal issues enabling them to succeed. The people who assist with this work are dedicated institution-neutral advisers. Their purpose is to work with possible future students ensuring they’re picking the right educational program, which will be the right path to success.
Gibson also adds that schools themselves started to work in the way of adapting to such adult students. For instance, they offer classes in blocks, which best fit a student’s working schedule; they also keep their offices of financial aid open extra hours in the evenings and on weekends.
Nevertheless, George Pruitt, the president of Thomas Edison State University, a New Jersey public college, which deals exclusively with adults, says that the progress done by now is little; more reforms need to be applied to modify the very structural level in order to make it possible for overaged and working students to be successful despite the area of schooling. A well-experienced George Pruitt also adds that the federal government hasn’t succeeded in adapting to the needs of “nontraditional students” yet.
This can be proved by the data system of the government, which tracks college students but does not gives an account for transfer students. Instead, it treats them as dropout students because it is programmed to focus on the mere fact of a student leaving a school, not considering reasons. With no accurate data on students’ demographic situation, it will always be impossible for educational institutions to serve “nontraditional students” effectively, despite all their desire to assist this particular group.
George Pruitt continues that a big deal of their challenge is to try to review the debate in public due to a new reality. Then he asserts that it is not even new, but over 40 years old and just not accepted. Adult students, who are desperately trying to combine studies with work and parenting, are typical for the American higher education nowadays. To some extent, this treatment of them as of a minority group has to come to an end.