Where are all the older students?
More and more students are returning to college these days, but apparently not in the North Country
J.T. Knorr decided to return to college at SUNY Plattsburgh because of what he referred to as "job burn out." The 48-year-old was bored with life.
"I was living like a mouse on a wheel," says Knorr, speaking of his time spent selling cars while living in Pleasant Hill, California. "Sure, I could buy anything I wanted, but I didn’t even have time to shop," he says. "Now I can go to a shoe shop and take my time."
Knorr originally decided to enroll in college and study radio and television communication.
"I put in a semester at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill and earned a 4.0," he says. "I only did that so my mother would quit nagging me. That was in 1984. I dropped out, and then went back to school in Corpus Kristi, TX., in 2001, after the car business, and earned another 4.0, but I had to withdraw because of health problems."
But Knorr overcame those problems and enrolled in SUNY Plattsburgh in 2005 as an English major. Although he says he doesn’t carry a 4.0 anymore, he is close to graduation and is looking to transfer to a graduate school to get his masters in radio and television communication.
However, according to Bob Carp, director of the Office of Institutional Research at Plattsburgh University, Knorr is not part of any kind of returning-students trend in the area. Older students are returning to college more on average throughout the nation, according to a 2005 study conducted by The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, but there doesn’t appear to be such a trend in the North Country. The question is, why?
Richard Higgins, director of admissions at Plattsburgh State University, says those students attending Plattsburgh who are 25 or older are a minority.
"I would be surprised if more than 10 percent of students are over 25. We don’t have a large urban area that attracts non-traditional students," he says.
Knorr agrees with this reasoning.
"When I was in Corpus Kristi, I saw a lot more older students," he acknowledges. "I feel like there’s more opportunity in bigger cities to make more money if you can further your education."
"I worked a few odd jobs for a while, and then decided to apply to school."
Higgins notes that the majority of students who do return to school at SUNY Plattsburgh either chose the military before college or are people who took employment after high school and later realized they wanted advancement in their field. He also explains that because technology needs upgrading, some older students might go back in order to keep up with that change.
Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital sends nursing students to SUNY Plattsburgh as well. If they take courses there, the hospital will pay for half of their tuition. If students manage a B or better, they will pick up the other half. SUNY Plattsburgh also has an online nursing program where students can earn a degree to become a RN. Non-traditional students—usually those with a bachelor's degree—can move up to become a director after they complete the degree.
Many students return after losing employment, too. In Fact, Wyeth Labs in Champlain, NY, is closing at the end of 2009 and many students with chemistry degrees are returning to pursue teaching because of the layoffs. According to Higgins, a lot of maintenance and operations staff members from Wyeth are enrolling at Clinton Community College to try and further their education as well.
Dennis Velez, a 49-year-old Plattsburgh student, says he went back to school for a similar reason. He was working for Pratt & Whitney as an aircraft mechanic but was laid off in February of 2002.
"I was already living in the area," Velez explains. "I worked a few odd jobs for a while, and then decided to apply to school. I got accepted, and now I’m earning my BA in Spanish adolescent education."
While older students are not returning to college in the North Country like they are in bigger cities, there are some such as Knorr and Velez who are shooting for that higher education.
Knorr says that when he leaves Plattsburgh he will transfer to a four year school in a bigger city, such as Syracuse, Rochester, Albany or Buffalo, for his graduate degree. He has already done some voice-over work for radio, and he would like to earn his master's and look for work in the city. "That’s how I got that check right there," he says, pointing to a duplicate hanging on the wall. "That’s how I want to make my living."
"Years ago a women named Bette Brohel – who is now retired – was the Coordinator for Adult Student services on campus," Higgins says. "She dealt with students who needed help with their work schedules."
Brohel ran a lounge for older students. She also served as a listening ear to help them decide on courses. It was called the Center for Lifelong Learning. The office was removed around 2003.
"Now," Higgins says, "though that office is gone, there is daycare for students with children available on-campus, and there is even a drop-off area where the staff will watch children while parents attend class. If someone raises their hand here, we’re here to help."
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