College can be a challenge for non-traditional students

For non-traditional students who are older than age 29, readjusting to college and campus life can prove difficult.

“My very first day on campus, I was completely awestruck,” said Wanda Cardona, a 53-year-old English major. “I felt strange because I was an older student.”

Michelle Deeter, a 45-year-old psychology major, shared the same view.

“When I first arrived at UMKC, I was a bit overwhelmed,” Deeter said. “To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure that I was going to be cut out to make it at UMKC.”

Adjusting to campus life is one of many challenges older students may face. They may feel out of place on a campus full of younger students. Cardona said adjusting to campus life wasn’t easy, but with the help of friends and professors, she eventually settled in.

“I had a friend that told me to just look around and see how diverse UMKC is,” Cardona said. “I began to feel comfortable, and realized I was okay as an older student.”

Deeter says age has bothered her personally, but believes it isn’t a problem for anyone else.

“I find myself having to do some self-talk to remind myself how many other older students are coming back to college just like myself, and realize age is just a number,” she said. “UMKC is a very diverse college and they embrace all of those diversities, including age.”

As  of the fall 2014 semester, UMKC has 1,238 undergraduate students over age 29, according to UMKC’s Department of Student Affairs.

UMKC offers programs that provide students with off-campus conflicts flexible options to complete their bachelor’s degree. The PACE program allows students who work or may have a family to schedule classes at their convenience.

Professor Reginald Bassa, director of PACE, says the program aims to reach out to students who feel overburdened.

“From the very beginning, we start to get involved in their lives,” Bassa said. “We try to find out what their academic interests are, what their work situation is and what their family issues are. We know that some students can’t be on campus all of the time. They have to be selective with their hours.”

The PACE program offers a variety of ways for students to take classes, including night and online.

“Students come to our program and we make sure we come up with a schedule that meets their needs,” Bassa said.

UMKC also offers scholarship programs for older students. The Osher Reentry Scholarship is for older students who have returned to continue their education.

“The program is for students that have a five year educational gap, who are between the ages of 25-50,” Liz Barton, director of Arts & Sciences Scholarship Programs, said. “We look for students who can be contributors to society. We have 10-12 scholars every year, and they are on a full ride.”

Cardona works full-time at Kohl’s. She admits working and going to school full-time has been difficult.

“I am unable to work enough hours to support myself well,” she said. “I’m always scraping by, and after a while, the stress starts to get to me. I find myself just trying to survive. When you have the stress of trying to hold down a job and prepare for class, it can be too much.”

Cardona graduated with an associate degree in dental assistance from Penn Valley in 1985, and married the same year. She worked as a dental assistant for a few years, but was diagnosed with endometriosis, then became a housewife for 20 years. After Cardona divorced, she found herself alone, and knew she needed to find a career that didn’t involve hard labor.

“I got a job in a distribution center, and quickly realized I was getting too old to do that kind of physical work,” she said. “I knew I needed to use my brain rather than my muscles.”

Cardona decided to enroll at UMKC and earn a degree to help her later in life.

“I’m trying to build my future,” she said. “I know I’m late and have a lot of things stacked against me, but I am very driven.”

Cardona encourages anyone who is considering going back to school to step up to the challenge.

“You can do this,” Cardona said. “Focus on what is right in front of you, because sometimes looking at the big picture is overwhelming. It’s been hard work, but I am accomplishing my goals and I am thrilled. I wouldn’t trade this for anything.”

Deeter shared the same advice.

“Relax and be confident,” Deeter said. “Age is only a number. You can do anything if you want it badly enough. Graduation is a big accomplishment. We only live once, so I say go for it.”

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