Joanie Randle is not your typical 52-year-old. Randle is divorced, has four children and supports her family, but none of that makes her out of the ordinary. None of that makes her part of a nationwide trend, a trend of more and more students over the age of 50 heading back to the classroom.
Randle is a nursing student at Ohio State, returning to the education scene more than 30 years after graduating from high school.
“It was intimidating,” she said. “I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb, and I was really self-conscious about it at first.”
Randle decided to return to school after her divorce left her needing to support herself and four children, three of whom are college students. Randle graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in political science and worked until the birth of her first child. By the time Randle decided to go back to school, she had been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years.
Randle attended OSU for one year for her pre-requisite courses and transferred to Otterbein University in 2008. By the fall of 2009, she was back at OSU after being accepted into the nursing program.
Randle first contacted the Office of Continuing Education in 2007, to assist her with her education. She later went through the Office of Admissions when she was admitted in 2009.
Corinna Owens works with non-degree seeking students as the assistant director of the Office of Continuing Education. Owens advises nontraditional students, which at OSU includes those aged 50 and older but also includes students who are significantly younger.
“We use ‘nontraditional’ and ‘adult’ to refer to those who did not directly enroll (in college) after high school, worked, joined the service, etc.,” Owens said. “They’re 24 years old or older … A lot of students earned their B.A. already and are working on graduate or master’s degrees.”
The latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the number of students aged 50 to 64 increased 17 percent nationwide from fall 2007 to fall 2009.
Data reported by the Office of the University Registrar for Fall Quarter 2010 and Fall Quarter 2011 show fairly consistent numbers of non-traditional students at OSU.
While Randle and other students might not be four years out from their high school prom, they said going back to classes began to feel normal.
Janel Carey is a 42-year-old student in strategic communication at OSU. Carey said one of the biggest differences between her and other students is the use of technology in the classroom.
“(It’s) the difference in communication with one another,” Carey said. “People are always on their phone or computer, and that’s hard for me to get used to. This generation is so introverted.”
Carey began pursuing a business degree at OSU in 1987, but left before completing her degree to work for Honda of America Manufacturing, Inc.
While working, she took classes part time under the company’s tuition reimbursement program, but it was not until 2010 when she made the decision to attend college full time to receive her degree.
“Career-wise, it wasn’t a concern with that,” Carey said. “I’m going back to school for personal accomplishment. I want to be an example for my daughter.”
Ohio residents aged 60 and older also have the option of enrolling in the state-mandated Program 60, offered through the Office of Continuing Education.
Diane Dortmund, coordinator of Program 60, said students in this program attend university courses for free by permission of the instructor and when space is available, though they do not earn credit toward a degree.
While Program 60 is for students who have a personal interest in furthering their education without earning a degree, many of the nontraditional students that come through Owens’ office are looking to eventually transfer into a degree-seeking program. Owens said some students are preparing for a degree but want to raise their grade point average before applying to a specific program.
Non-degree seeking students made up about 2.9 percent of the student population in Fall Quarter 2011, and of these students, 65.1 percent were older than age 24, and about 10.8 percent were 50 and older, according to the Office of Enrollment Services.
Although Randle and Carey agree there are added challenges that come with being nontraditional students, both said returning to school was the right option for them.
“Why not go back if you have a dream and a desire to?” Randle said. “There’s no time like the present. You can do whatever you set your mind to.”