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It's never too late to learn new skills
Back to School: It's never too late for adults to go back to college

Date published: 8/2/2012



James Powers started college 22 years ago. Then he stopped. There was marriage, children, his day job tracking satellites at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren.

Finally, in 2006, at the age of 50, Powers decided it was time to finish what he'd begun. He wanted to do it for himself. He also knows how important a college education is in today's competitive job market.

Powers enrolled in Germanna Community College, where he could take classes on campus in the evenings or online at his home in Spotsylvania County. He still worked fulltime. His children weren't yet teenagers.

But in May 2009, Powers earned an associate degree in general studies. He was 53. He earned a bachelor's in liberal studies online from the University of Oklahoma in December. Now he's working on his master's.

Powers represents a growing number of non-traditional students--ages 25 and older--returning to college. This segment of students is growing quicker than the number of younger students seeking higher education, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. From 2000 to 2009, enrollment of non-traditional students jumped more than 25 percent. NCES anticipates that number to swell another 23 percent between 2010 and 2019. The growth of students younger than that is expected to rise only 9 percent during that time period.

The trend is perhaps no more apparent than at Germanna.

"Since 2008, we've seen a large influx of students who are adult learners," said Mark Haines, coordinator of Counseling Services at the college's Fredericksburg-area campus in Spotsylvania. "That's driven by a couple of different reasons: The economy, folks who lost their jobs or wanted a different career path. There are some who are still employed but their companies require it of them."

Students who return to school after years--or decades--outside the classroom face a unique set of challenges, Haines said.

"There's an initial shock," he said, and that's often due to technology. "Back in the '80s, when you did a research paper, you went to the card catalog. Now databases are all online. Classes are posting notes online. You're going to class with the notes."

There's the student information system--online, of course--and student email.

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