Not Your Typical College Student? Think Again.
October 24, 2013
Jed Bowen may not seem like your typical college student, but according to statistics, he is. Studies show that adult learners over the age of 25 compose close to 40 percent of undergraduate populations across the country. A quick Google search for “adult college student” yields thousands of hits. Nontraditional students are the fastest-growing group on today’s campuses.
Adult learners are a multi-faceted group, ranging from military veterans preparing to return to the civilian workforce to professionals and skilled workers planning a career change to those pursuing their dreams of a college education. Adults go to college for a number of reasons, but the underlying purpose is to make life better for themselves and their families.
Jed Bowen, a May 2013 graduate of Dalton State College, would agree.
A military veteran, Jed previously worked as a helicopter mechanic. In his last job, he contracted with the military to work on helicopters in Iraq. “The money was nice,” he says, “but the environment was not.” The 120-degree temperature was bad enough, but the random gunfire and mortar bombs “got really old really quick.”
So Jed considered his options. He didn’t want just another job; he wanted a career “to better myself and do better for my family.” And, since he hadn’t yet used his GI Bill, he decided to go back to school. The medical field captured his interest, and he thought about pursuing a career in physical therapy, radiology, or perhaps nursing. Then his wife mentioned respiratory therapy.
“I really liked what this career path had to offer. So after a few shadowing visits to a few hospitals, I decided this was it for me,” Jed explains. With that decision made, he next had to consider logistics. He and his family live in Jasper, Georgia, which made commuting an issue.
Nontraditional students tend to face different challenges than traditional college students, usually juggling several responsibilities such as family and work along with their studies. Flexibility is key to their success.
Progressive institutions have stepped up to meet these needs in several ways, such as offering distance education options like satellite centers. These alternatives give nontraditional students opportunities they might not otherwise have had.
Fortunately, Dalton State had just opened its Gilmer County Center in Elllijay. This made Jed’s decision easy. “I chose Dalton State because they offered a respiratory therapy program plus the fact that they’d opened the Ellijay campus, which is only 15 minutes away from my house,” Jed says. “I figured I’d start the first semester or two in Ellijay.”
It turned out to be a great solution for Jed. “The staff at the Gilmer Center is wonderful. Gilmer Campus Coordinator Sandy Ott and Administrative Assistant Tracey May were great at helping me get the paperwork rolling to begin college. They also acted as my advisors when I needed help. They always have a smile and a kind word when they see you,” he said.
Moreover, the Gilmer Center is a solid link to the main campus. “I liked the fact that some of the faculty would come from Dalton to teach at Gilmer, too,” Jed says.
Dalton State’s size appealed to Jed. The atmosphere and smaller class sizes enable students and faculty to get to know one another. “It’s not like some of the big colleges where there may be over 100 people in a class and you have to make an appointment to speak with the professor about a problem.”
The smaller size also makes it easier for students to get involved on campus. “I was president of the Respiratory Therapy Club and was able to vote on the school’s plans for growth and improvement,” Jed says. “Hopefully, these plans will help to bring in more students, even transfer students from other schools.”
As far as his program of study, Jed appreciated the challenges of the Associate of Applied Science degree in Respiratory Therapy. The program’s rigorous coursework prepared him well for his new career. Since graduating last May, Jed has worked as a Registered Respiratory Therapist at Hamilton Medical Center.
“It was a long journey with some rough points, but I made it through in one piece,” he says. “To all others thinking about being too old to go back to school: you are never too old, and it is a doable task with a satisfying reward at the end of the journey.”