The physical age of college students is not indicative of their ability to learn or study at college. However, anecdotal data and theory believe continuing education to higher levels is best accomplished in one unbroken string, grade school through college degree and advanced studies. Further theory states young brains have a greater capacity to learn: “Learn early – Learn fast – Retain more”. When the question is posed, “Does an older student get more out of a college education?”, it must be prefaced with other questions in order to quantify the subject. A more accurate determination would be derived with the category of “Older”, being expanded and further defined.
It may be argued that older students have a greater appreciation of knowledge required to advance in business or professional worlds. This learned from previous work experience. This allows older students to apply themselves more directly; knowing what they are required to learn for application later. Also older students are less likely to have scholarship or financial assistance forced to use their own resources; they sorely do not want to waste. Although all of the above can be applicable to many regular students as well.
One category of older students may be those skipping a few years after high-school to serve their country in the military and continuing their education on the GI Bill. With a minimum of military service the student although older is not that far afield of the traditional student. In that they typically have not moved on to a family situation with the necessity of providing sustenance for others and could even live on campus, not add a greater life experience to the college life, and in general fit in as do regular students. Discipline derived from military will afford potentially better study habits and an attitude more conducive to learning. This category of older would be rated a push, with neither, younger or older, gaining an advantage.
Another category of older includes those going into or advancing in their career path. One example might be a nurse or paramedic returning to school to become a PA or full fledged doctor (MD). They would bring a wealth of knowledge and perhaps be advanced in any preliminary classes towards the degree they seek. In this aspect they would gain much more from the college experience and would most certainly advance more easily and rapidly than a traditional student. Although sharing this knowledge would be useful to regular students in any group setting.
A third category of older would include; retirees or persons starting a new career; one example might be an empty-nester mom, going back to school to enter a new career or simply to learn fully a hobby or interest to become more proficient to promote themselves or to sell their wares. Again no distinct advantage afforded by the college experience over students the age of her children.
My sole reason for voting on the “No” side of thisdebate, relates somewhat to debate portion of my “Rhetoric 101”, “Speech”, and other classes as well. An older student having served in the military, full family responsibilities with a wife and two small children and full time job returning to college had it more difficult in time management alone. Studying and research aplenty were difficult, pre-internet, we used the libraries and text books, so many hours were added each day for normal life of which a typical college student does not have to contend. Many hours of study groups assembled by traditional students did not include the older student with those responsibilities outside of college life.
The final reason for this side of the debate can be shown as an example of the student becoming the teacher. Life experiences in the environment allow older students to gain, “street knowledge”, from real life having been thrown into that arena as an apprentice. Being a technical trainer and field technician I was forced to learn my craft and amass knowledge from application in real life not on a classroom agenda. These valuable traits and lessons equip you with knowledge others can take from you in classroom situations. One student asked me to be his opposite in the debate format, why I asked, “Because I need the points and a better grade from a debate will result with you”. Another example on returning from an out-of-town business trip I had been selected as the difficult position of moderator of the discussion panel. The group gained from my learning experiences gaining the advantage. In a final example during, “Logic Training”, group discussion I found using my previous experiences, placed me in the position of adding more to the group than I received, actually catching myself monopolizing the forum group and swaying the logical result options, I pulled back and soft-pedaled my opinions. A thirty year old (plus), adult is seen by late teens, early twenties traditional student, as an authority figure and takes from their experience, ultimately gaining advantage.