Older students need community on campus
By VICTORIA RICKMOND
Nearly 70 percent of the students here at UMW are between 18 and 21 years old, which is considered the “normal” age range for undergraduates. 17 percent of students follow closely behind at 22-24. The remaining 13 percent of students are outside of that range, including myself. I am only a few weeks shy of 26, and in the two semesters I’ve been at UMW I have only met one other student who is over the age of 24.
Most people in college aren’t thinking about age, we’re just trying to remember what homework we were assigned and to go to bed before midnight. However, there are moments when the age difference is glaring. In those instances, insecurity rears its ugly head and suddenly you feel like the cryptkeeper among your peers. While only a few years separate me from most graduating college seniors, those years can sometimes feel like an eternity, especially considering that the generational divide between millennials and gen-Z has split me right down the middle.
Insecurity aside, it’s not all that uncommon. In recent years, it seems like more and more people are holding off on attending college right out of high school. As recently as 2012, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that of all undergraduate students, 34 percent took some amount of time off. For many, the financial burden is too great as tuition costs continue to rise. For others, issues like joining the workplace, academic indecision, mental and physical health, and a multitude of other personal reasons keep them from enrolling.
In my own experience, I went through a whopping five years of slow but steady community college before I figured out what I actually wanted to pursue academically. Many of my friends and fellow classmates followed the same path for their own reasons, and now we enter universities like UMW to find that we, only in our mid-to-late 20s, are oddly detached from our younger peers. While many would consider the previously mentioned 13 percent of students who are older than 24 a minimal percentage, the unique struggles that these students face should not be ignored.
The UMW community prides itself on the vast array of clubs and organizations it offers its students, but among that list should be a group for older UMW students. As it stands, the most relevant resources on campus for atypical students are those for transfer and veteran students. However, neither the Office of Transfer & Off-Campus Student Services or the Association of Student Veterans necessarily seek to include members that are simply older. Even though the age range within this group would be varied, students of older age and unconventional circumstances would be able to share their experiences with other students and perhaps not feel so isolated.
College stress at any age is still college stress. However, many older students have a unique, sometimes heavier load of responsibilities than their younger classmates. Their lives often include not just part-time jobs, but full-time careers. Their families are not parents and siblings waiting at home, but often families that include partners, spouses, children, even their own parents to support. They have rents, mortgages, insurance, and the list goes on. Add a heaping dose of homework, reading, studying and the dreaded exam week that we’re all familiar with on top of that, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for stress. A group specifically catered for older and returning students could help relieve some of that stress, or at the very least lessen the implication that their stress is due to their age alone.
Many people who are older than the 18 to 21 age range are already hesitant to enter or return to higher education. College is meant to be a time of great change and growth for everyone, not just emerging adults, and it’s time we acknowledge that fact and celebrate it.