Intently concentrating on my shopping list, shutting out distractions around me in the school supply aisle at Wal-mart, I was
suddenly startled by a familiar voice of an old friend I hadn't seen in ages.
"Hey, Kim! Are you going broke yet spending a fortune on school supplies for Matthew?"
My friend Amy, a mother of four, tosses boxes of crayons into her full cart of school clothes and supplies. I imagine she's spending
her whole paycheck on them.
"No. These supplies are actually for me! I'm in school working on my journalism degree. This happens to be my junior year at
I smile with pride, sort of like a child who just gave her mom her best rendering of the family to hang on the
kitchen fridge. Her jaw drops as if I just told her I plan to be a brain surgeon.
"Wow! But, how can you afford it?"
"Well, that's a long story."
As we catch up on six years of each other's lives, I explain to her the long story of being downsized at my last job and making the
switch to school in hopes of a better paycheck someday.
To follow a dream, achieve a personal goal and get a better job were the top three reasons on my list to plunge into the abyss of
textbooks and late night cram sessions and the age of 30-something. After being downsized for the fourth time in eight years due to
a struggling economy in this General Motors and retail/restaurant town of Anderson, Ind., with little hope for improvement, I knew
going back to school was my only other option regardless of the sparse change jangling in my pockets.
I am only one of about 20.8 percent of U.S. college students were age 35 and over, estimated in 2001 from the National Center for
Education Statistics and the Census Bureau going back to school. Two major reasons for my age group and baby boomers heading
back to the classroom are job loss and the need for job security due to constantly changing technology. Women who want to fill a
hole after their children head off to college or who went through a divorce are also determining factors. This also means increased
revenue for many universities now gearing special programs to adults returning to further their education or change careers.
Success in the economy today requires more education than ever before, and education opens more doors than ever before, appealing
especially to women and racial and ethnic minority groups, according to www.prb.org. As the economy continues to reward people
for investing in education, more adults are returning to college.
PRB.org continues to say that in 1999 a record of 25 percent of all Americans ages 25 and older had at least a bachelor's degree,
compared with just 5 percent in 1940.
Terri Gibson, a mother of four majoring in education at Anderson University in Anderson, Ind., says many women her age, (40
plus), need a sense of fulfillment after raising their kids and taking care of their husbands in order to avoid the empty nest syndrome.
"I want to make a difference in other children's lives as well as provide an income for myself."
But, in the case of Betty Bricker, director of non-credit, life-long learning programs at Anderson University, getting a degree
depended on whether she would get to keep her job in social work or not. Her employer informed her at the time that only those
with a bachelor's degree in social work would be chosen to stay over those who didn't have any further education in that field.
"Two of my daughters were students at AU and they told me about the adult education students in their classes," said Bricker.
"They encouraged me to check it out and when I did they thought it was great that I was going to be there with them."
Bricker also shared textbooks to save on expenses while in college with her two daughters, although she believes she was the only
one actually reading them from cover-to-cover.
CNN recently reported that several schools, from for-profit companies to DeVry Inc. to nonprofits such as University of
Pennsylvania, had a substantial "boomer" enrollment in their part-time adult education and other programs continue to rise and the
median age is typically mid-30s or higher. We are considered the "new majority."
Who are these students dubbed the "new majority" and are "re-careering" by going back to school? Executive Update Online
reports these part-time students include single mothers who must work full-time, more Americans working in urban areas, those who
have increased access to instructional technology and a growing population 55-and-older.
One major reason is the financial bottom line, according to the Web site Executive Update Online. While the average American
family income has tripled since 1970, the figures are reported to be misleading unless adjusted for inflation. Today's average family
is only $4,200 ahead of the family income of 1970. Meanwhile, real costs have risen for health care, housing, and college tuition.
For many adults, part-time study has become the only feasible option to finance their education and upgrade skills for better-paying
Rose Delph, a graphic design major graduating this May, knows all too well about the struggling economy and how financial
situations can change quickly without warning. Her husband was injured permanently in a boating accident last year, which leaves
her being the primary source of income for her husband and three children.
"I went back to school because I wanted to get a good paying job so that I could help pay for my children's college education," said
Delph. "I think more adults are going back to school because new technology requires new education."
She discloses how juggling work, family and school became quite difficult. "I had to sacrifice time with my family to keep my
grades up above average level."
My own participation in the classroom has been quite a learning experience. Being the only adult student in most classes has
seemed overwhelming at times, with feelings of inadequacy and lack of knowledge I felt my traditional peers might have had over
I remember the first time I brought my new textbooks home, my then nine-year-old son Matthew asked if we could trade and look at
each other's books. I felt thrilled that he took such an interest in what I was doing, and since then we have shared many nights of
studying, researching topics at the library and even having him tutor me on the computer. He always asks to see my report card, and
has made it his own goal to achieve straight As into his senior year in high school.
My now thirteen-year-old son recently commented that I knew the parents of several of his friends because they were also adult
education students at AU. "That means I can't get by with anything because all of the parents will get together and tell on us!" To
which I replied, "So, I guess that means you should beat them to it and tell me the truth straight up first, huh?"
Many adults find balancing family, work and school resembles a juggling act at a circus. Which priority to put first when they all
compete for the top position? I have done many homework assignments on benches at sporting events for my son, asking his
grandmother to nudge me when Matthew was up to bat, or getting ready to go into a basketball game.
Now my friend Amy, whom I mentioned earlier, is trying to balance work, ball games for four kids, and a full-time school schedule.
Two months after our previous encounter, she called me and asked how she could sign up for school. She wanted to go back and
finish her teaching degree started years ago before marriage and kids, especially since she was facing an eminent divorce and had
been a stay-at-home mom the last thirteen years and had no outside work experience before her children were born.
"Well, I figured if you don't have two nickels to rub together and are making it, then maybe I could do it," said Amy. She's the
second friend of mine who has uttered these very words and is now working toward a degree.
How to pay for college? Many adults are already strapped for cash, in debt with living expenses, mortgages and dental bills
associated with raising a family. Back2College.com stresses that adults should check out the college they are considering attending,
first ask the financial aid office about grants, loans and scholarships, some locally within the community. Often, many schools, like
Anderson University, offer a reduced tuition fee for adults, night classes and even online classes that allow one to do homework in
their pajamas from home. Work-study programs on campus are also a way to help pay for a college education. Generally, what is
offered to traditional students will also be available for adult education students, as well.