Times have changed for adult learners in pursuit of higher education

Chris Eldridge and Amanda Shaw enjoy a quick morning breakfast between classes.
Cole Fetting acting in the summer production, "Comedy of Errors" in Galt Gardens.

Cole Fetting acting in the summer production, “Comedy of Errors” in Galt Gardens.

The words “college student” might conjure up an image of an early 20-something hanging out at a house party. However, with an increase in adult learners, there’s never been a better time for non-traditional students to consider going back to school.

Balancing school and other responsibilities is one of the common dilemmas adult students have to deal with.

Other than challenges faced by all students, such as social events and deadlines, adults who are returning to school often face demands on their time, such as family and work responsibilities

As a 27-year-old father of two with zero college credits, Chris Eldridge knew he had a steep road ahead of him when he enrolled at Lethbridge College this fall.

Prior to starting school, the family man feared he wouldn’t connect with his classmates due to his age.

According to a statement released by Lethbridge College in 2016, the average age of its student body is 24-years-old.

Knowing he wasn’t alone as a mature student in his program reassured Eldridge he would be able to make valuable connections with others in his program.


Before beginning his journey at the college, Eldridge held down a series of entry level jobs in the service industry.

After years of playing tug-of-war between paying bills and building a future, Eldridge took a leap and enrolled in the Criminal Justice program.

“I knew it was now or never. I was just sick of working a job with no future. I want a career my daughters can be proud of,” said Eldridge.

Adult students returning to school after a break in their studies often cope with issues and challenges unique to their various circumstances.

Shortly after returning to school Eldridge and his wife, who is also a student at the Lethbridge College, discovered they were expecting a third child.

“It was a shock to find out we had another baby on the way. I am so thankful every day my wife and family are so amazing. Without their support, none of this would be possible,” said Eldridge.

Although he knows continuing his education is not going to be easy, it is something he and his family are committed to seeing through to the finish line.

“Having two children and one more on the way definitely makes it tough to get back into the swing of school. We had to basically decide whether we could make this work short-term for a better future long-term,” said Eldridge.

College graduates often have professional opportunities not available for those who forego an education.

According to the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, the average median income of a high school graduate is $32,000 per year. Someone who graduates from post-secondary education can expect to make on average $60,000 per year.

As a single mother of two young boys, 26-year-old Amanda Shaw returned to school to secure a better future for her and her children.

“I decided to go back to school because I needed a big change, and to show my kids they can do whatever they want no matter their age,” said Shaw.

The dedicated mother spent years nurturing her family while holding down various jobs until returning to Lethbridge College in the fall of 2016.

Shaw is enrolled in the general studies diploma, majoring in psychology and sociology.

The increase in future earnings is one bonus for her family, but going back to school meant more than just financial stability.

“It’s important for me to do this now because I want to be something and do something in my life, and I hope to make a difference wherever I can. This step will help get me there,” said Shaw.

With a two-year-old and five-year-old, Shaw has her hands full at home, but is dedicated to her studies.

“At first it was difficult with arranging childcare and securing funding, but now I know what I have to do and I just do it. I want a better life for my kids and the best way for me to provide one is for me to go back to school and get an education,” said Shaw.

Adult learners are all very different with many coming to education from a unique and at times unconventional route.

Although some return to school to create a more abundant future for their families, some return simply to fulfill a longtime dream.

Cole Fetting is a 27-year-old who has spent many years in a local labour job.

When Fetting first stepped foot on the University of Lethbridge campus, he was nervous, but filled with excitement.

Pursuing a Bachelor of Arts as a performance major, Fetting feared his age might be a drawback to his studies.

“The dynamic is different in that I definitely feel the age difference between me and my classmates. That fear held me back for a long time, but finally I realized I wanted to have more opportunity for myself and I wanted to pursue what I love,” said Fetting.

According to the University of Lethbridge, it has seen an 11 per cent increase in mature students since 2014.

Fetting knows the key to his future happiness depends heavily on his pursuit of academia.

“It’s important for me to get an education because I’ll get more opportunities to get better jobs and learn interesting things about my craft,” said Fetting.

Knowing this could be his last venture into the world of education Fetting refuses to let any opportunity go wasted.

Since beginning his studies this September, he has been actively involved in both his studies and extracurricular activities in the theatre department.

“It’s important to make the most of the opportunity because you only get one life and one chance to do what you love. I won’t let any experience pass me by. I’m here for the next four years and I fully intend to capitalize on every moment,” said Fetting.

Many adults are working hard to achieve their goal of a college graduation, and thereby changing the landscape of post-secondary education.

Colleges and universities across the country are looking towards mature students to boost enrollment numbers at their institutions.

Events tailored specifically to those students who have been out of school for more than one year continue to pop up to provide those interested the option of getting further information.

Lethbridge College hosts their next Mature Learner session Oct. 21.

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