Graduate School for Mature Students

Returning to graduate school means that you have embraced the idea that your knowledge and expertise will be challenged and enriched. You long for the excitement of stimulating discussions. You look forward to being introduced to information you previously had no idea of. You may have some disappointment ahead.

Graduate school comes at students like a freight train. From comprehensive exams to endless reading and research, projects, writing and defending a thesis, the expectations are often overwhelming, We enter with great caution and make our way carefully. The one pay off is all the nifty classes we get to take – at least the catalog says so.

Sadly, catalogs are printed with the hope that there will be faculty to teach all those nifty classes. The course listing may be only a wish list of what departments would love to offer if they only had someone to teach them. Many schools are cutting back on faculty as best they can due to budget constraints. What is left are the tenured professors who don’t venture very far from their comfort zone. Many of the classes in the catalogs will not be offered.

Additionally is the practice of graduate students making up for absent classes by being required to take undergraduate classes that have a graduate component tagged onto them. These classes have few graduate students in them and overall the work is geared for the undergraduate student. The graduate component is usually an extra ten to twelve page research paper.

The chink in this side of the ivory tower is that not only are graduate students lying fallow in classes that don’t necessarily challenge them on a graduate level, they are also paying graduate level tuition for undergraduate classes. Their tuition is justified by the extra ten to twelve page research paper. In fact, it is as if they are paying the exorbitant fees for the burden of writing an extra paper.

It’s not that this arrangement is any less intimidating than a normal graduate class. The added research paper is one more requirement that must be fulfilled. But the irony is that the course work, often required in order to make up the necessary hours for getting the graduate degree, is not on a graduate level. There may be a substantial amount of redundancy as instructors teach information that graduate students have already acquired because they have an undergraduate degree.

It is a shame that university departments are dwindling so significantly that they really cannot support their graduate programs. However, that is no excuse for instructors, who may, in their tenured dotage, be limiting their class load and therefore limiting the course offerings. Graduate school should be the territory of serious scholars whereas much of it can often be like a deja vu of the undergraduate years.