and pa per to
Liv, and the
rest of the
together to do
BY SHARON LAROWE
PHOTO BY BRENT A. SMITH, UTAH STATE U.
'94-'95 U. PHOTO CONTEST WINNER
XPECTING TO SEE A LOT OF FRESH
young faces in your classes this
year? Well, we've got news for
you - the face of America's col-
lege student is changing. It's
growing older, with more wrinkles and
responsibilities than the traditional 18-
to 21-year-old has.
Twenty-nine-year-old J.D. Burke
should know. According to the
National Center for Education Statis-
tics, 40 percent of today's students are
over the age of 24. Burke is one of
them, and his second time back, the
U. of Wyoming has lost its charm.
This time he's all business.
"I came to college right out of [high] school, like
everybody else," he says. "Drank a lot of beer and
chased a lot of girls. I just did what everybody else
was doing, except the homework." His grades fresh-
man year were so low that he was put on probation
and eventually suspended.
After losing funding for college, then sowing his
oats in the Navy, Burke is back to hitting the books
as an electrical engineering major - with a lot
more riding on his studies than just finding a fulfill-
ing career. He has a wife and two (soon to be three)
children to think about.
Katie Flynn, 52, of the U. of Utah, was in the
same boat. She cheered at the graduations of her
husband and daughter, then decided it was her
turn. But before she could earn her anthropology
degree, Flynn had serious hurdles to clear - like
learning how to be a student again. "I hadn't taken
a test in 30 years," she says.
Approximately one-third of the students attend-
ing the U. of Utah qualify as nontraditional, Flynn
says. As former president of the Non-Traditional
Student Organization, she made sure there were
programs that addressed issues such as peer mentor-
ing and what to do when studying and attention-
craving 2-year-olds divide students' time.
Flynn, who sometimes took classes with her 30-
year-old son, feels privileged to have had so much
family support. Other nontraditional students aren't
so lucky, she says.
Without a Mom-and-Dad scholarship, many
older students - often alone, sometimes divorced
and supporting children - have to tap other
sources for tuition money and basic living expenses.
For the Burkes, both full-time students at the U.
of Wyoming, other sources include Uncle Sam.
Sure, J.D.'s GI bill helps out, but what really keeps
them afloat is the government-provided food and
child care for their 4-year-
old, Liv. Their third-grader,
Simon, goes to school,
which frees up Mom and
Dad to take classes.
In the evenings, they
hand crayons and paper to
Liv, and the rest of the fam-
ily sits down together to do
It may be hard to sur-
vive on welfare now, but
Burke sees it as the govern-
ment's investment in his
"It is absolutely impera-
tive that you get your
degree," Burke says. "[Oth-
erwise], you'll be an absolute
drain on society, and you'll
be behind the eight ball."
The statistics are on his
side. The National Center
for Education Statistics says
that college-educated men
earn a yearly average of
$17,000 more than those
with only a high school edu-
women earn $12,500 more.
Thirty-year-old John than a full co
Tyler can sympathize. He
and his wife, Susan, are expecting their first
baby, which makes his return to college even
"It puts pressure on me to get good grades and
get through school," says Tyler, who attends Austin
Community College in Texas. "Making an 'A' in
class was important to me [before]. Now I'm more
interested in learning the material so I remember it
after the class."
Because many draw an older clientele, commu-
nity colleges often have more programs to ease non-
traditional students into the workload.
"ACC really helps nontraditional students get
acclimated," Tyler says. He plans to earn his associ-
ate's degree there and then transfer to a larger, four-
year university nearby.
Lisa Gallico's story may very well be every stu-
dent's worst nightmare. Sixteen years and five col-
leges after first entering the world of higher educa-
tion, she has finally found the right school and
program at James Madison U. in Virginia.
The twist is that the 34-year-old grad student is
still living in undergraduate housing because the
university doesn't set aside housing specifically for
For both Gallico and her sophomore roommate,
Debra Jacob, this has been a trying semester. Galli-
co is frustrated that Jacob likes to watch TV and lis-
ten to the radio while she's trying to study. Jacob
feels she must ask for permission to do those things.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm living with my
mother," Jacob says.
"I feel like I am her mother sometimes,"
3 students balance a lot more
responds Gallico. But in the end, mothering isn't
her goal; she just wants a quiet place to study.
"That's all she does," complains Jacob, who just
wants to return from classes to dorm-sweet-home.
Despite her dorm room dilemma, Gallico says
she deals with problems similar to those of most
students - choosing a major and then getting the
classes she needs.
But Gallico handles the social scene a little dif-
ferently from traditional students. "I just want to
center on the classes," she says. "Then maybe later I
can meet more people."
Even though she's had her share of setbacks,
Gallico expects to earn her master's in dietetics by
fall and say goodbye to college once and for all.
"Lord have mercy, I've been in school half my
life," she says. "People ask me why I'm still
doing this. I've been in school this long. I may as
Tyler has a different reason for his return.
"When you get to be 25 or 30 and you look
around and everybody [your age] has their
degrees or their own home, you want to settle
down," he says. "We're going back to get some
stability in our lives."
Whether you're under the legal drinking age or
old enough to take calculus with your kid, college
classrooms are a common ground. Soon there may
be no such thing as a "nontraditional" student.
Sharon LaRowe is a "traditional"senior atJames Madison U.
August/September 1995 " U. Magazime 21