Forty years ago, the student population on college campuses was homogeneous as 18-22 year olds appeared to dominate the landscape of most college campuses. Thus, television images of young adults in their post teen years wildly partying at fraternity and sorority houses only provided a glimpse of what was truly going on in colleges and universities across our country. Nevertheless, some of these young students took college more seriously. These were the students who spent the beginning of their young adulthood pondering over the direction of the rest of of their lives as they lost hours of sleep while writing research papers and studying for final exams.
Moreover, in the past twenty years another group has joined this bright-eyed, optimistic group of students at the brink of young adulthood. This group is not known for loud music coming from the sound systems of their cars. Instead they choose to rush home from school to prepare meals for their children and spouses instead of socializing in the student union. Also scores of bald shaved middle age men have joined the mohawked younger guys, who look old enough to be their sons, in the registration line for fall classes. These trends reflect the fact that the college experience is not limited to the 18-22 year old crowd. Students aged 25-50 are beginning to represent over 10 percent of the population of most colleges and universities across the county. As the demographics for the typical age of college students appears to be changing, many younger students view their older counterparts as losers or “too old for college.” However, the nontraditional students who are coming back to college are seeking some of the same things that younger students want from the college experience. As a matter of fact, many older students view college as an opportunity for a new, fresh start for their lives.
One of the most obvious reasons why an older person would attend college is for career advancement. As the nationwide average for unemployment is close to 10 percent, many people are looking sharpen their employable skills are trying to find employment in a new field. This contrasts the experiences of the traditional college crowd who haven’t spent a considerable amount of time in the workforce as many of them are looking to find their niches. Many nontraditional students have found their niche and are trying to move the next level in their careers as they seek jobs in management or upper level supervision. Others older students are looking to abandon their old niches and seek new opportunities as entrepreneurs or in high demand fields like nursing, health care, or education.
Another less evident reason why the 25-50 age group is returning to college is because of unfinished goals from their youth. As mentioned earlier students who attend college who are 18-22 years old are on the brink of young adulthood. Thus, during this period, they are faced with many tough decisions. Many must decide whether they should quit school or work a seemingly promising job. Others grapple over whether they have the time to work, raise a child from an unwanted pregnancy and handle the mental challenges of college level classes. Due to these issues that many face as young adults, many choose to leave college or ignore it altogether. Thus, an older student sees the college experiences as an opportunity to go back in time and focus on getting a quality education.
In short, many older students are taking advantage of the opportunity to get an education, which represents a fresh change in their lives. Although they lack the energy and sometimes zeal of their younger counterparts, the wisdom that they’ve gained from life experiences makes them a valuable commodity on most colleges and universities. While it is tempting for the traditional student to degrade their older counterparts, younger students need to realize that nontraditional students are on the brink of a positive change for their lives. And this type change is vital for people of all stages of life.