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Returning Adult College Students Have Needs Too

A visit to a local big box store in the last couple of months would have afforded the shopper an expansive opportunity to purchase all kinds of school supplies. It’s interesting how many, maybe even most, of the school supplies advertising features younger children with an occasional teenager. What about the older adult college student? This student needs school supplies too.

Over the last several years, I’ve had older adult students share with me how “odd” it was for them to initially join in with moms, dads, and kids as they would buy their brand new notebooks, pens, paper, and (of course) white-out. They described how this was step one in feeling out of place. Step two was soon to follow, the first class session.

I have vivid recollections of first class sessions for older adults returning to college and most of those involve men and/or women who experienced significant career success and then found themselves not as the leader but as the learner.

Within their careers they are well known and highly regarded for their workplace skills. In the classroom they start out as one of many, an unknown, and without an instant platform for their usual prominence.

My college teaching experience, more than 25 years, shows that it only takes about three class sessions until the older returning adult college student begins to leave behind the original new student jitters. Most often, these students ease into the enjoyment of a learning atmosphere that is uniquely designed for them, not for someone right out of high school.

The intention of this article is to remind us that older adults are returning to college to and in most cases they are returning to finish what they started and then stopped. They are among the, approximately, 40% of the college-going population. Recent research from the National Center for Education Statistics reports that more than one – third of the 17.6 million people who enrolled in college in the fall of 2011 are over age 25 and one – quarter were over age 30. Additionally, it is expected that this number will increase by more than 20 percent by 2019.

Overcoming the typical older-adult college re-entry issues of …

“I’m too old, I’ve got too many responsibilities … I may fail … I can’t afford it”

…is a reality for many adults. Okay, now that we know the list of why nots, it could be time to make a list of whys and hows that will help you to start again with the goal of finishing college, this time. I welcome your contacting me to discuss your educational goals.

Written by Vickie Becker, EdD

Vickie Becker, EdD, is the Executive Director for the Azusa Pacific University Murrieta Regional Center. She may be reached at 951.304.3400 or

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