Never Too Late to Further Your Education
SPECIAL ADVERTISING SECTION
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Local schools give nontraditional students the tools to succeed
Nontraditional students— typically defined as students age 25 and older, commuting at least 10 miles to campus, attending school part-time or full-time, retired or working, with or without children, married, single or divorced — are returning to school in droves. These students don’t take the “traditional path” of enrolling in college right out of high school. They are often referred to as adult learners, or re-entry students, and they’re realizing that now is the perfect time to return to school.
Patti Sorenson, 52, has four grown children, two grandchildren and loves to spend time with her family. She also enjoys spending time outdoors, working out at the YMCA, and cooking elaborate meals. That is, when she’s not doing her homework. Patti is a full-time student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. In May, she’ll graduate with a bachelor of science degree in education, grades kindergarten through eighth.
A typical day for Sorenson includes waking up at 4:30 a.m. so she can beat rush hour traffic and get to school by 6:45. She does four hours of service learning in a first grade classroom before returning to campus for classes and homework. On Wednesdays and Fridays she babysits her grandson before returning home for more homework.
“I’m usually doing schoolwork until 9 p.m., and I try to get to bed by 9:30,” she says. “At my age I can’t stay up until 3 or 4 a.m. doing my homework like a lot of the younger students can.”
Despite her demanding schedule (she’s carrying a load of 18 credits), Sorenson maintains a positive attitude. She’s reminded of the payoff every time she’s in front of a class of bright-eyed elementary students.
“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was in sixth grade. I want to make a difference in childrens’ lives,” she says. “I might make a difference to only one child and I may never even know it, but that’s what makes everything worth it.”
Returning to school
Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that adult students are the fastest growing educational demographic, and these numbers are steadily increasing. In 1970, 28 percent of all college students were 25 years of age or older. In 1998 the number of adult learners had increased to 41 percent. The Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education (ANTSHE) reports that students who are over 25 make up as much as 47 percent of the new and returning student population on many of today’s college campuses.
Part of the appeal to many adults is access to online classes, offering convenient scheduling for busy lifestyles. Online classrooms give students the opportunity for more in-depth research and discussions, allowing them to absorb the information over a weeklong period. Students can learn any time, anywhere.
At Concordia University, St. Paul, “online education is making education available on a global level,” says Dr. Robert DeWerff, vice president for academic affairs. “A great example of these global connections is an online course taught by Dr. Chuck Nuckles, who recently moved to China for a teaching post. He now teaches from Shanghai with students located throughout the U.S.!”
Online learning has also made it possible for Concordia University students to continue their studies after being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“They often have been able to continue their studies even though they’re working in a war zone,” DeWerff says.
Attending an online course gives students a fair and level playing field, no matter where they live or how they learn. Since you don’t see your classmates or instructor, no judgments are made based on gender, race, ethnicity, physical appearance, or physical abilities. A deaf student attending Concordia University said that being part of an online cohort gave her the opportunity—for the first time in her educational career—to participate as fully as anyone else in class.
Contrary to popular belief, however, online learning is not easier than taking classes at a bricks-and-mortar institution.
Sticking to a regular routine of classes and deadlines can be preferable for students who might not have the self-discipline to complete an online curriculum at their own pace. And sometimes the Internet simply isn’t the right medium for certain classes.
The biggest difference between online and classroom learning, however, is the fact that online learners don’t interact face-to-face with classmates and professors.
“Online, students interact with their peers and instructor through postings and forums. For many people that is preferable. While in traditional courses, other students often look forward to the classroom’s energetic debates and eclectic mix of traditional-aged students, fellow adults, and the professor,” says Liz Turchin, associate director of marketing at the University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education.
Different strokes for different folks, depending on what the student is comfortable with.
“Commuting and scheduling aside, given the option of the same course either in the classroom or online, it often comes down to a person’s own learning environment preference,” Turchin comments.