Increased unemployment rates are changing the landscape of colleges across America. With the nation’s jobless rate nearing 10 percent and actual unemployment topping 20 percent, more people are turning to the world of academia as a means of weathering the current economic downturn.
Age distinctly defines two categories of these college students: traditional and non-traditional. It’s these non-traditional students who frequently are packing classrooms.
Stephanie Epperly, who worked in the land title and escrow industry, is a non-traditional college student.
“Those jobs are no longer around anymore,” Epperly said. “I need to go back to school to find something else to do.”
The U.S. Department of Education’s student aid website said 40 percent of today’s college students are older than 25 and almost six million non-traditional students currently are attending classes.
Family situations challenged other non-traditional students.
Tramaine Battle, 26, gave up college when he married and then his wife became pregnant. Battle attempted to juggle work and school, but his employer was unable to accommodate his scheduling needs. As a result, he was forced to give up his college pursuits and focus full time on work.
Battle resumed his studies after being laid off for more than a year.
“What I was doing before wasn’t what I wanted to do,” Battle said, referring to his work as a union carpenter. “I’m going to be an accountant.”
The traditional college student is exemplified in Melanie Wheat, an 18-year-old former Running Start student who graduated from high school last June. Currently in her second year at Pierce College, Wheat works on campus as the entertainment coordinator in the Student Programs office.
“I think I like working better because I really don’t like school,” Wheat said, although she wouldn’t consider leaving college and working full time. “I know that education will bring me to a better life later on.”
Darlene Oaks, who has worked at the college since 2003, has noticed changes in the ages of Puyallup campus students
“It’s pretty apparent to me that there is a group of folks who are older,” Oaks said. “We have wonderful folks who have joined us in their 50s, 60s and 70s, and they are just remarkable.”
However, not everyone has noticed a change.
“It’s pretty much the same since I’ve been here,” said James Finch, who works in the financial aid office.
Finch, also a student, has not noticed a difference in the average age of the students walking through his door.
“You get a lot of Running Start students, then you have your fresh-out-of-high-school students, then you have a handful of people in their 20s and 30s or older.”
Finch said both recent high school graduates and non-traditional students have similar needs for funding, with the Pell grant being the primary source for most students.
As classrooms are being filled with people from all walks of life, they have an eclectic array of differences that come with them. Some experts are saying this creates the ideal learning environment.
The young can benefit in class from the life experiences of older students and older students can benefit from the youthful enthusiasm and brightness of younger classmates.
With similarities and differences to draw from, traditional and non-traditional students will soon be entering, or re-entering, a workforce forever changed by the economic crisis plaguing the country.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost