Making the decision to become a nontraditional student
By Shelley Murphy
After an exhausting and emotional 2012 spent solely on my son’s college essays, exams and applications you’d think college courses would be the last thing on my mind as a new year begins.
But, with one less bird in the nest and a bit of free time, I considered taking a class at a community college.
Lately, it seems like researchers are repeatedly reminding me that my cognitive functioning is likely declining with each candle added to my birthday cake. It makes sense. I exercise my body. I should exercise my mind too. Since I have no interest in mastering sudoku, I decided to register for an enrichment course to help keep my mind from turning to mush.
But something held me back.
During the winter recess, my son’s college dorm closed and finally forced him home for a few weeks. One evening he had a group of friends over—all of them in their first semester of college. I couldn’t help but overhear the animated conversation as they spoke over each other to share stories about their new college careers at their respective Ivy League schools, out of state universities, local state and community colleges. Soon, their voices lowered, and as their laughter grew louder, I quickly realized some stories I’m better off not knowing.
That night, however, I did hear a comment that stuck with me.
One student talked about his experiences at Saddleback College and how different the campus and classes felt as compared to high school. He seemed happy at his new school, but complained about a couple of classes. His chief complaint being he would walk into a class, sit down, and everything seemed “normal,” but then he’d “turn around and see some 50-year-old sitting behind” him.
I could relate on a couple levels.
I remember back in the early 90s, unhappy with my dull administrative day job, I got a brilliant idea to become a travel agent and took evening classes at Saddleback to earn my Travel Agency Operation certificate, which I still have. In my defense, the ability of travelers to book their own trips using the internet hadn’t hit yet. I also hadn’t predicted that before long I’d be pregnant with my first-born and soon be a stay-at-home mom, not a world traveler.
Anyway, I remember sitting in a class and feeling the same way about an older lady who sat beside me. She always had her hand up, always drove the curve up and never hushed up.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, non-traditional student enrollment (ages 25-69) is the fastest growing educational demographic.
The Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education reports that students over age 25 make up 47 percent of the new and returning student population on many of today’s college campuses. At Saddleback, females account for 60 percent of the population with 21 percent of them being over the hill—or over the age of 50.
Despite supportive demographic statistics, I chose to compromise and register for an online class.
I found an evening course described as a hybrid—we would meet on campus 25 percent of the time and the other 75 percent would be taught online. Perfect, I thought, I’ll probably show up for the first class, and then the midterm and final.
So far we are four classes into the semester and we have met in the classroom twice—luckily it is not a math class. I like my class and am relieved to report that while I’m not the youngest, I am not the oldest either.
I haven’t told my son, or his friend, about my return to the classroom and I think I’ll keep it that way. There are some things we college kids should keep to ourselves.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband and two sons for the past 14 years. She’s a freelance writer and contributor to the SC Times