Monday, September 10, 2012

Adult Students – Beyond the Textbooks

One of my favorite memories from attending a community college right out of high school was my Intro to Sociology class – 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mr. Cherry was the instructor and he facilitated the class with the measured hand of an orchestra conductor. He knew how to make the course content come to life through the voices of the adult students in the class. He would begin each class with a brief lecture and add a unique twist – he would first ask us 18-year-olds questions to which we would work hard to summon the correct answers based on what we had read from the textbook the previous night. After we provided our often weak, simple answers, he would then ask the older students (who had lived a little) how the particular subject matter applied to real life – think of the difference between reading about marriage, domestic violence, racism, and any other isms and living them. We’d then break into small groups where all of us – younger and older – would devour the content.

I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to have chosen to attend a community college and learn so deeply when so many of my friends attending universities had to learn this same content in a 300-seat lecture hall with 299 other 18-year-olds, taught by a teaching assistant who was still working on their master’s or doctorate. I’m still grateful for what my older student peers taught me back then and for the artful skill of Mr. Cherry, who worked his craft every day.

Here at Mohawk Valley Community College, more than 33 percent of our students are 25 years or older. We welcome and embrace returning adult students. Our adult learner services office provides tremendous support to our older students. The wonderful staff in this office (and the rest of the College) understand that the older you get, the more complex life becomes and the more support you need. The Returning Adult Student Association (RASA) is a key element to our support structure and is one of our most vibrant and active student clubs. It provides peer-oriented support and activities for returning adults and meets every Thursday at 3 p.m. in Room 212 of the Alumni College Center on the Utica Campus.

Many of our returning adults are only able to attend on a part-time basis, taking a few classes at a time. The part-time tendencies of our students are why we have maintained the lowest part-time tuition rate in the state for five consecutive years. I personally find inspiration in every story of our returning adult students – stress from raising children; caring for aging parents; working multiple jobs; taking care of oneself; and then trying to fit in time for a college education – a logistics dance for the ages played over and over again on our campuses. To help understand the power of these stories, I encourage you to take a moment to watch this brief two minute video of one our students.

The other evening, I was leaving my office and encountered an older student in the hallway. We struck up a conversation and I learned his story. He’s here to switch careers and go into health care because he wants to prepare for a future where he can see himself no longer being able to do the manual labor work he is currently doing – he wants to have options in a few years. The focus he has on his studies was inspiring – he knows what he wants to do and why he wants to do it. The life he has lived thus far gave him a vision of how he wanted to change his life by furthering his education and changing careers. Many older students share this focus and add to the diversity of our learning environment and help to make a MVCC an incredible place to learn, grow, and change your life for the better.

If you have any comments on this post, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.