Gas station without pumps

2015 October 11

Mature students

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:42
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In a comment on his post Growing evidence that lectures disadvantage underprivileged students, Mark Guzdial wrote,

I realize that adult learning is difficult to fit into our culture and work lives, but one could imagine a scenario where it might fit. Lifespans are much longer today. There is enough time for more than one career. Maybe we might work until (say) 45, then take a 3 year sabbatical to re-train, then launch into a second career into one’s 70’s or later. What might be learned in “second college”? How would college be different with more mature learners? What are the inherent limitations of having much older learners, and what are the inherent advantages of having learners who have 20+ years of real world experience?

Our grad program has had several “re-entry students” in their 40s and 50s who came back to college to get a PhD.  Some of them had been in industry doing computer programming, VLSI design, or engineering management for decades before getting bored with it and wanting to do something that used their skills more productively. Many of these students have done very well, both in the degree program and in their subsequent careers.  (One of the younger ones, who was only 41 or 42 when getting the PhD, is now a full professor, for example.)

I don’t see many limitations to having much older learners—there may be fewer all-night study sessions, but there will also be less need, because there will be less procrastination about deadlines.  Community colleges have been accepting older adults for decades (since the big growth of community colleges in the 1960s), and have had a lot of experience with them.  What I’ve heard is that the mature adult learners tend to be much more consistent and reliable than teens and barely post-teens who make up the undergrad population, but that many of them have lives outside of college, and can’t do more than one course at a time.

I don’t think that I’ll go back to grad school when I retire, but I am likely to take community college courses on subjects that my education is weak on (most likely hands-on skills like welding or art classes).

2015 June 18

Suki Wessling: In praise of adult ed

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 23:49
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A friend of mine who writes professionally, Suki Wessling, recently wrote on her blog about her experience at Cabrillo College, our county’s community college (In praise of adult ed – The Babblery):

There’s a lot of wrangling going on right now about the purpose of community college. The combination of limited funds and the push for “college for everyone” has incited discussion on whether community colleges are for the community as a whole or just for the specific purposes of helping young people on to four-year colleges and giving specific technical degrees.

Personally, I have always loved the “community” aspect of community college, and I think it would be sad to see it go. I have both taught at and been a student at a few different community colleges, and I think they only benefit from mixing the “young divas” with the more, ahem, seasoned members of our community.

People who want to separate the community college from the community are probably unaware of how much learning takes place in a classroom that seems so informal. They are also probably unaware of (or unconcerned with) how important intergenerational learning can be to many of the eighteen-year-olds who end up drifting into community college simply because nothing had gelled for them yet.

Although the majority of their students are young adults (though typically a bit older than at 4-year colleges, since community college is the most common route for students to start going back to school after a break), community colleges serve a wide age range. Cabrillo College also runs a number of enrichment courses for middle-school students in the summer, so they really are spanning a very wide age range, from 10-year-olds to 80+.

Our governor seems intent on stripping community colleges of most of their missions, leaving them only with transfer preparation, which currently accounts for a relatively small fraction of their students. I seriously hope that he does not succeed (or, better, gets educated about the true value of the other missions of the community colleges).

The community college is essential for the home-school community (though the home-schooled students make up an insignificant part of the college’s enrollment), the theater community (the musicals produced there each summer are a major part of the county’s theater experience, reaching much larger audiences than the productions that UCSC puts on, though not as big as Santa Cruz Shakespeare), and the arts community (the art classes at Cabrillo are very popular with people of all ages).  These functions are essential to the community, but are not part of the transfer-prep mission.

My son and my wife have taken courses at Cabrillo and found them valuable, even though neither was preparing for transfer to a 4-year-college (my son was in high school and my wife was a decade or so past her BA).  Although I have not yet taken any community college courses (it is a bit far for me to cycle to when I’m busy), I expect to when I retire.  I’m not sure exactly what, as my hobby interests tend to change every 5–10 years, but it probably won’t be stuff from the IGETC (Intersegmental General Education Transfer Curriculum), but more idiosyncratic stuff that requires in-person classes.

I sure hope that the fun courses still exist when I have time to pursue them and haven’t been thrown away in the name of austerity.

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