Back to School for Boomers

The young at heart follow their passion in increasing numbers.

By Julie Christensen and Katie Weddle Langer

Back in the day, the phrase “non-traditional student” described a minority group of college students who were over the age of 22, enrolled part time, had dependents, worked full time, or all of the above. Today, these so-called “adult learners” are much more commonplace on college campuses, and baby boomers are among them.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment of students ages 50 to 64 increased 17 percent nationwide between 2007 and 20091. More generally speaking, college enrollment of students 25 and older rose 43 percent between 2000 and 2009, compared to an increase of 27 percent for students 25 and younger2.

So why are more boomers returning to or going to college for the first time later in their lives? The answer is pretty straightforward. Just ask Jamie Hill, a 53-year-old student at Globe University in Madison, Wis.

Barb Reilly, a baby-boomer graduate in the medical assistant program at Globe University in Madison, weighs a child during a wellness clinic held on the campus. The clinic is one example of many hands-on educational experiences students receive at the university.

“After raising seven kids and having all of them grown up but one, I decided it was time for me to do something for myself,” she says.

Hill is enrolled in the veterinary technology program at Globe’s Madison East campus. Globe is a family-managed career college based in Woodbury, Minn., that prepares students to be work-ready for careers in a wide range of fields. Students gain hands-on education that immerses them in real-world situations.

When Hill graduates with an associate in applied science degree in June 2013, she’ll be ready for a job as a veterinary technician—a role that aligns with her passion for animals.

“I’ve always been one to bring in strays; they are like kids to me,” Hill says. “I love animals and I love people, so it’s the perfect job for me.”

For Brian Hagen, 55, returning to college was about revamping his skill set. He studies music business at Globe University-Madison East.

“I decided to enroll at Globe because the industry in which I am involved is changing so rapidly that I need a well-informed source to get up-to-date,” Hagen says. “Also, my former degree had no business classes, and they are very useful in any market.”

The Appeal

At Globe’s Madison East campus, 10 of the 275 students are over 50 years old, and 37 students are between 40 and 49. Small class sizes that foster one-on-one attention are part of Globe’s “We Care” guiding philosophy that appeals particularly to its baby-boomer students.

“The small class sizes are one of the biggest reasons I chose Globe,” Hill says. “I’d get lost in big classrooms. I love the extra attention we get here.”

The university’s staff and faculty provide support from a campus-based student services department and lifelong career services assistance.

“Everybody at Globe cares,” says Barb Reilly, a boomer-aged graduate in the university’s medical assistant program. “All of the staff and faculty that I’ve come in contact with here want you to succeed.”

So what is it like attending classes as a baby boomer? For Hill, it’s seamless.

“I’ve never felt like I’m the old lady on campus,” she says. “The students make me feel like I’m one of the gang.”

And as she tells her friends and family, “You’re never too old to go back to school.”




This article also appears in Today’s Boomer magazine: