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Never too old to go to school

Cathie Lawrence,

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Does age really matter when earning a degree? As long as you want it, go get it.

I would like to work part time for a few more years before actually retiring, and receiving a degree would help me gain employment. You see I’m 62 years young. But there are many people my age or older who have to work longer because they can’t afford to retire. Inflation is on the rise and has been for as long as I can remember. Older students who go back to school for their degrees are plentiful at colleges all around the United States according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

These older students are returning to school, often part time or for evening classes. Their rate of enrollment is rising faster than students of typical college age. In 2009, students age 25 and older accounted for roughly 40 percent of all college students, including college graduates. That figure is expected to rise to 43 percent by 2020.

I don’t have a full-time career in mind for my degree. A freelance position taking photos for various news and sports organizations would be my preferred choice. Luckily, I have already had some small professional jobs taking pictures for a local community paper.

Financially I feel secure thanks to good decisions made over the years and inheritances received. At this point in my life, my going back to work with a degree in hand would give me a few years more in a field I thoroughly enjoy. I guess you can say that getting my degree is more than just for self-fulfillment and the pleasure of earning a degree. It will also help me get the job I want in the end.

LMC is my home away from home since I’m here on campus more than I am in my Antioch home with my husband and our two cats. I’m one of those lifers since I have been a student at LMC off and on since 2005.

My first class was in digital photography with Curtis Corlew, who sparked my interest in photojournalism. Since then I have changed my major from fine arts to journalism and taken courses that allow me to work on the LMC Experience newspaper to develop my journalistic skills. I have been working on the newspaper since the fall of 2013 in various positions including staff photographer, photo editor, assistant web master and sports photographer.

I’m not quite there as far as graduating anytime soon. I am planning on getting an A.A. in journalism and graphic arts by May 2020. Then hopefully a B.A. in photography will follow eventually.

One reason older students go back to school is because they were the ones who either had to work to help support their families financially or they stayed at home and took care of their children. They now want to go back either to finish what they started or to follow their dream of earning a degree.

Older students are often faced with different financial considerations and calculations when deciding how to pay for their education. Various institutions, foundations and organizations offer grants and scholarships and colleges offer financial aid.

While many do not have any restrictions on age limits, there are some grants and scholarships that are only available to people of a certain age. For example, grants or scholarships available for seniors include:

  • The Jeanette Rankin Foundation Women’s Education Fund for women who are aged 35 or older and meet low income eligibility guidelines. Women applying for this scholarship must be going to college for their first degree. It can be a vocational, technical, associate or bachelor’s degree.
  • The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act scholarship for seniors age 55 and over who contribute a minimum of 350 hours of community service hours to the program.
  • The Adult Students in Scholastic Transition Grant, known as ASIST, from the Executive Women International (EWI) for women only.

Some states offer free auditing of classes and, depending on the colleges, senior citizens can apply for tuition waivers or discounts.

But I am also aware many older students are back on campus out of necessity. Many are in the classroom after losing jobs. Their skills must be updated in their current field or completely overhauled to prepare for a total career change. These older students are on campus to become more competitive in the job market. To these older students, a degree is a lifeline to a better life for themselves and their families.

No matter the motivation for seeking a degree, older students who are returning to school after years of not being in a classroom may be apprehensive about not fitting in, only to later realize that their fears and concerns were unfounded as a growing numbers of middle-aged adults are now returning to college to pursue or finish their degrees, and many adults find they actually enjoy interacting and learning with younger students who are enthusiastic about education.

To these older students, I say continue on the road toward getting that degree you so long for. To the younger students who predominate on campus, I say continue to help by interacting with us “oldies but goodies” so we, too, can be as successful as you in the academic world.

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The student news site of Los Medanos College
Never too old to go to school