Leaving the workforce to go to college or university can seem financially, academically and emotionally daunting, but tapping into campus resources can ease the transition, experts say.
“They’re not going to be alone,” said Pamela Hanft, associate vice-president academic at Ontario’s Humber College. “We’re seeing an increasing number of quite mature students enrolling on a full-time basis.”
This year, the college has 1,500 students aged 35 and up, a whopping 60 per cent increase on last year. Hanft attributes the rise to laid-off workers retraining and to government “second career” initiatives. Technically, “mature students” are students older than 19 who have been out of school for more than a year, but Hanft said the challenges those adults who have spent 15 or more years working face are quite different.
If would-be students aren’t sure about enrolling full time, she urged them to try an evening class first.
Like other post-secondary institutes, Humber has a special handbook and orientation for mature students covering child care, finances and other concerns older students may have. There are a slew of career-advancement services available to help students pick a path to a successful career.
“When we talk to mature students, there’s often an academic concern. They haven’t been in school for a while, they think they’re rusty,” Hanft said. Placement testings for English, math and other courses ensure students start at the right level, and tutoring programs keep mature students on track.
Emotionally, mature learners can be intimidated by the thought of being surrounded by so many young students: Humber’s 1,500 older students are surrounded by 18,000 younger students.
But many mature students are “genuinely surprised and pleased” at how receptive younger students are to studying with them, Hanft said.
“The older student brings a general experience of the work world that the younger students are really interested in.”
Mature students tend to do well academically, bringing an intense level of focus and dedication that might be missing in their younger colleagues. Sometimes, volunteer or workplace experiences can earn credit at the institutions.
“It’s important to look at all the services available and make use of them, because they’re paying for them in their tuition and it’s very foolish not to avail themselves of things that can make life simpler and make them much more successful.”