As I sit here thinking about what it’s like to be back in college after spending 30 years raising kids and building a career, I wonder. Am I alone in this universe of old brick buildings filled with computers and kids zoned out on little rectangular screens?
I look around and rarely see anyone my age. When I do, I want to ask them, “What brings you back?”, but think twice when I decide they are likely a professor. When I have a classmate or two who seem old enough to have a 401k account, I fight the urge to throw my arms around them. “I have a friend!!!”. After all, we are obviously a minority on this campus…or are we?
According to the Community College Review, there was a significant uptick in students over 50 enrolling in community colleges from 2005 to 2009. 12% more AARP types like me signed up for either full or part-time school. But that number is expected to drop in 2018. Projected enrollment of students over the age of 35, according the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) is expected to be down 13% since 2009. That said, overall college enrollment of all ages will see only a modest gain of about 1.1% between 2015 and today.
As of 2011, the over fifty student body makes up about 3% of college students. In other words, that’s 610,216 boomer students in a sea of 18+ million! No wonder I feel a little “alien”!
So why are we back at all? Finish a degree? For a really fun time? Perhaps as a way to regain our youth (college is way more expensive than Botox, I’m afraid).
Julie Gorges of the blog, Baby Bloomer Bliss has this to say about why we are headed back:
“Unlike younger college students, trail-blazing baby boomers aren’t driven by anyone’s expectations other than their own. And, perhaps surprisingly, regret doesn’t seem to be a big factor either. Only about 15 percent of students aged 50 to 59 said they went back to school to complete a degree they previously started.”
Gorges identifies several reasons for our return.
- Update skills
Many boomers are working longer. Studies show that up to 80 percent of baby boomers plan to do some sort of paid work until age 70 to stay mentally sharp, keep engaged socially, and achieve financial security in retirement. That leaves a couple of decades after 50 to work.
- Change Careers
Some baby boomers are pursuing an “encore career” and go back to school to prepare for a new direction in life. Whether boomers are retired and want to try out another career part-time or are still working and want to change jobs, many want to pursue their interests and passions before it’s too late.
- Focus on ourselves
The decision to return to school was often about finally having the freedom to explore a subject they love. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed in that age range said they enrolled in college to explore their passions. Compare that to those between 18 and 29 who were three times less likely to give that answer; they were more likely to say they enrolled in college as a logical next step in their lives.
Yeah, all that sounds about right. I definitely want and need to update my skills. All this digital media has completely transformed the work world of graphic designers. Lots of new career paths to be discovered. And now that my girls are grown, I can try to reach back and remember who I am again and decide the next stage of my life. What I want. What I like. What I need.
I must keep in mind that I’m not so much a pariah on campus. Every so often I should run in to my own species. And we do bring something valuable to the classroom experience. Maybe as the older set, we are teaching the kiddies that aging is not a bad thing. You never have to stop learning. And with age, comes wisdom. And greater confidence.
While we may never full inhabit their planet, we are a force to be engaged with. We’re trying to figure shit out too!
“You’re never too old to decide what you want to be when you grow up”