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A higher degree of adult education

Nontraditional grad image

If you dream returning to school for a higher education degree, "You are in very good company," said Judith Wertheim, interim dean of the Indiana University School of Continuing Studies. College enrollment by students over age 25 is projected to increase steadily over the next 10 years. Many returning students, however, struggle with doubts about whether they can balance school with work, family and other commitments. Wertheim offers these tips on overcoming personal barriers to pursuing continuing education.

  • "I don't have time." "Technology, and the increasing options it provides students who may not be able to attend on-campus classes, is making a huge difference in continuing education, providing returning students with unprecedented flexibility and convenience," Wertheim said. Nationwide, more than 2.6 million students were studying online in December 2004. "Most colleges or universities offer at least one of many distance education options: correspondence courses, online courses, video courses, interactive video courses, streaming audio or video courses, courses on CD, pod-cast lectures -- and the options keep growing."
  • "I can't afford it." Many scholarship and financial aid opportunities are available for returning students. "Check with your employer to see if they can offer tuition assistance. Talk with the financial aid office at your school about any federal, state, or private scholarships or loans. Individual departments may offer a variety of scholarships. The Web, too, can be an invaluable resource," Wertheim said. Obscure scholarships are out there. Wertheim once found, for example, a scholarship for Hungarian descendants of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She said it's important to remember that going back to school is not an all-or-nothing proposition. Some students take courses for several semesters and then take a break to earn extra funds.
  • "I won't fit in." "Adult students need to remember that everyone in their class is there for the same reason. In a sense, they're all ignorant about the subject at hand and want to learn about it. In reality, most adults, once they get started in courses, quickly fall into the academic groove and find themselves talking with their younger counterparts about this or that professor or class, assignments, grades or how the basketball team is doing," Wertheim said. Returning students may also have some academic advantages over traditional students. "Returning students learn that their professors love having them in class because of their life experiences and perspectives. Whatever returning students may lack in terms of particular knowledge or skills is offset by their persistence, determination, clear sense of what they want to achieve, self-motivation and appreciation of higher learning."
  • "I don't know how to get started." University bureaucracy can be intimidating for returning students, but staff personnel are available to demystify the process. "Students can always start with their admissions office or the continuing studies office, describing what their goals are and the kind of education they need to meet them," Wertheim said. "Some campuses have returning student centers, where students can find information, study, use computers, and meet other returning students and learn from their experiences." She suggested that students consider taking one or two courses before applying to a degree program. "This will give them an idea of what to expect."