Cathy Belau gets ready to begin a class using the MPCC distance learning system at the Imperial college campus. — Johnson Publications

Nontraditional is the new traditional with college students today

    More and more older Americans are heading back to school, and their rate of enrollment is rising faster than students of typical college age.
    They are going back to school as either career changers or career enhancers. Adult students might be pursuing their first degree, an advanced degree or another credential, said Susan C. Aldridge, president of the University of Maryland University College.
    Because they are older adults and often working, they want to attend school part-time or evenings. They also view the structure of education differently than traditional students do, she added.
    “Adult students like to get actively engaged in the classroom. They have experiences, and they want to talk about those experiences,” said Aldridge.
    Going back to school over the age of 40, 50, 60 or more has made an interesting impact on society today.
    It has become more common for people who spent years in the workforce, or who took years off to raise children, to decide to go back to school.
    Maybe they just want to keep their minds sharp, or they are being drawn to the high-energy college environment with its variety of viewpoints and social opportunities.
    It could also be because of the shifting state of the economy that older adults are considering ways to strengthen their résumé to achieve greater financial security.
    A significant number of retirees find themselves out of the workforce earlier than they expected. A survey by PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, found that for retirees aged 70 or older, 58 percent retired before they planned to do so. Some of those people needed to sharpen their skill set to land a new job.
    In some cases, older adult students are developing skills in order to launch a second career or go in a new direction.
    In another survey by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave, the nation’s foremost thought leader on issues relating to an aging population, 72 percent of respondents aged 50 and over, who were not yet retired, said they envisioned working in some capacity in retirement and often in a new field.
    For many people, “retirement” doesn’t actually mean retirement. It means launching a second career.
    Some adults want to breathe new life into a current career, as was the case with one local nontraditional student.
    
Local adults seek higher education
    Cathy Lunzmann Belau was born and raised in Imperial and graduated from Chase County High School in 1978.
    While in school, Belau said she planned to attend college. But following graduation, she chose a different route and happily married Rodney Belau, the love of her life.
    She started working 27 years ago at Chase County Hospital, where she is now an insurance biller.
    Four years ago, Belau said she lost her husband and found herself feeling adrift with lots of extra time on her hands.
    A co-worker suggested she take some classes, so three years ago, she signed up for an 18-hour course at Mid-Plains Community College in Imperial. She attended part-time while still working full-time and acquired her accounting certificate.
    “I have always loved numbers, so it seemed like a logical course of action to follow,” said Belau.
    She said sometimes, at first,  she felt like she was way over her head, having been out of school for so many years.
    “I was second-guessing myself, wondering why I was doing this,” she added.
    Receiving the certificate gave her the boost of confidence she needed to take the next step.
    She is now a part-time student at MPCC, working toward an associate degree in business with an accounting emphasis.
    “I am 58 years old, and I am enjoying bettering myself by increasing my education. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have classes to take,” Belau said with a smile.
 

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