Wednesday, May 14, 2008

M.S. Enkoji: Older students are hot new thing on California college campuses

Older students are hot new thing on California college campuses
By M.S. Enkoji
The Sacramento Bee

College acceptance letters aren't going out to only new high school graduates. More than ever, it's their parents waiting for that letter.

The number of California college students between the ages of 50 and 64 rose 61 percent between 1986 and 2006. Among people ages 40 to 49, enrollment increased 32 percent. Overall enrollment climbed 33 percent during the same two decades.

Like the wave of college students that washed into schools on the GI Bill after World War II, baby boomers could create a ripple of their own.

Often, baby boomers return to school for economic necessity. Some are single parents; others are raising their grandchildren.

But they also enroll because they choose new careers after years on the job, possibly less physically taxing ones.

"There are a heck of a lot of these people and they're going to be out there for a while," said Jim Blackburn, director of enrollment management services with the California State University system.

Some schools, particularly public and community colleges, already offer flexible hours, urban campuses and targeted services to accommodate nontraditional students.

"I need to get over that age thing," said Elizabeth Hall, 48, a Granite Bay mother of two and a new college student.

Hall scrambles from behind her office desk when students wander in for help on the American River College campus.

She'll give directions to another office. She answers questions about parking passes. Her main job is to help returning students who haven't been in school for a while, students like her.

She first attended the two-year Sacramento college in the early 1980s, before she married, had children, then found herself divorced and in need of a career.

When she returned to school in the spring 2007 semester, she worried about her studying skills and how she would fit in.

"I was afraid I would be treated like an old lady," she said.

When other students sought her as a team member for a group project, she relaxed.

"They found me as an asset," she said. "I just feel like part of the team. I love it. I really love it."

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