Older, wiser and more engaged in class

By Kristine Cantey, Tiffany Kafer and Brenda Wendlandt
InkSpot contributors

When you think of a college student, what image comes to mind? A freshman, living away from home for the first time?

These days, a college student isn’t so simply defined. In fact, the average student age at Anoka-Ramsey is 25—and on Cambridge campus it’s 25.4.

More than a quarter of students in Cambridge are 30 or older. Another 12.5 percent are PSEO students, according to fall 2013 college enrollment data.

With this shift in age adjustments have been made in teaching styles, classroom setups and most importantly a professor’s state of mind.

There are a number of differences between the age groups including, motivators for completing college, performance, challenges they face, and what they bring to the college setting.

“PSEO students are often noticeably eager and intimidated by the fact that they’re in a college classroom,” said Joyce Pihlaja, an English instructor at Lake Superior College in Duluth. She said it’s rare for those students to fail, because they have high school advisers and parents tracking their progress.

In contrast, traditional-age college students are most likely to “go missing,” during the semester, she said.
But older students also face greater challenges, she said, because they’re often working full-time, raising kids and even dealing with health problems, she said
ARCC student Jamie Boeschee a 33-year-old mother of three who returned to college after being out of school for 12 years in order to obtain a teaching degree, said the hardest part of returning to school has been, “time management is hard for me, just trying to find enough time to get everything done, also possibly failing, juggling work, kids and school.”
Ana Edwards a 41-year-old nursing student, “was scared that (she) wouldn’t know what (she) was doing,” and thought that she was too old to be returning to school. When asked if she feels like she fits in at school Edwards responded, “I do feel like I stick out just because I’m Hispanic and older.”
While older students can see the difference and feel the pressure, there are still some of the same issues for those on the other end of the age spectrum. A group of 17-year-old girls, Angelee Miller, Anna Frazier and Anna Melnik agreed that their age doesn’t negatively affect them in school or their performance. They feel that college is a lot like high school.
“I think that being younger allows me to be more determined in school,” Melnik said. “I think that tests and assignments are actually easier since I am so much younger than the elderly who decide to come back to school. Age definitely is a factor in performance and I think that being younger allows someone to learn better with less environment obstacles such as, many bills, debts to pay off or raising a family.”
Boeschee encourages older students to enroll and stresses, “you can do it, it may be hard at times, but it is worth it.” Edwards said older students should, “start as soon as possible and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
“When I see a non-traditional student in one of my classes, I do figurative cartwheels,” Pihlaja said. She said traditional college students are often away from home for the first time, and don’t always take college seriously.
In contrast, “In classes where the average age is higher (with more non-traditional students), the performance is higher. Seriously, with a group of moms and dads in the room, the work gets done!”