A fourth of students at college are adult learners

December 09, 2002|by RICHARD BELISLE

Edna Miller grew up on a farm, graduated from high school in 1977 and went to work in a garment factory for the next 22 years.

"I decided one day that I'd had enough of factory work," she said, explaining why she's working on an associate's degree in business administration at Penn State Mont Alto.

Miller, single and a Shippensburg, Pa., resident, was 41 when she started classes in the fall of 1999.

She graduates this month and already has a job lined up as a teller with a local credit union that she said "could lead to a possible management position.


"I'm looking forward to it," she said. "I'm ready."

Miller isn't alone. Nearly 26 percent of the 1,300 students at the Mont Alto campus are adult learners, college spokeswoman Holly Cieri said.

"This seems to be a trend at colleges - students returning later in life," she said.

Penn State Mont Alto has its own support group for adult learners, Cieri said.

Alice Royer, coordinator of adult education learning on the campus, said once an adult gets his or her foot in a college door, "there's no stopping them."

Adult learners, defined by Penn State as being at least 24 years old, face different problems than traditional college students who enroll right from high school, Royer said. Most are in their mid-30s.

"They don't party or lead the kind of lives traditional students have," Royer said.

Some are single mothers. Many adult students deal with real-life issues including caring for children and families and holding down jobs.

"They have a lot more pulling on their lives than the younger students yet they have to meet the same academic requirements," said Royer, who also teaches English and women's studies at the campus.

Royer said many adults perform better than their younger counterparts.

Both mix well in the classroom, she said.

"They learn from each other," she said. "The adults learn about punk rock and the kids about life."

Royer secured a grant in 1995 for an adult enrichment center on campus.

"We need a place where adults can meet and talk about adult things," Miller said.

It also provides adult students with a quiet place to study, something that is not always available at home.

Last year, Miller, a full-time student, was honored for being one of the school's outstanding adult learners.

Royer said 85 percent of the adult learners at the school attend full time.

Favored courses among adults are the school's two- and four-year nursing programs, health and human development courses, two-year physical and occupational therapy programs and two-and four-year business courses, Royer said.

"Many are attracted to the allied health program," she said.

It's something they can learn to contribute or give back, she said.

"They're not so interested in making money."

Adult students are more motivated, Royer said.

"If I tell them to read 10 chapters they'll read 15 and quiz me," she said. "They seem to want to excel, not so much to be trained, but to learn more."

Laura James, 44, of Gettysburg, Pa., holds a bachelor's degree in social work from Gettysburg College and a master's from the University of Minnesota. She is married to a professor at Gettysburg College and has two teenage sons, 14 and 17.

James is enrolled in a two-year nursing program at Penn State Mont Alto. She expects to graduate in June 2004.

She worked part time while her boys were growing up, mostly in nursing homes, group homes and hospitals, she said.

"There were things I couldn't do as a social worker," James said. "I began to realize that I had more passion for nursing than I did for social work.

"I guess it's a mid-life crisis," she said. "I realized that here I am in my mid-40s and that if I really wanted to do something I'd better do it."

Brian Ramsey of McConnellsburg, Pa., is 32. He graduated from high school in 1989 and managed to pick up 97 college credits from Shippensburg University while working at JLG Industries in McConnellsburg as a material handler.

Ramsey is enrolled in Mont Alto's two-year accounting degree program. He takes classes part time in the evenings and is making good marks, he said.

"I didn't have my priorities straight when I was younger," he said.

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