While the phrase “college student” tends to evoke images of an 18- to 22-year-old who enrolls right out of high school, students in the Ventura County Community College District are much more diverse.
We view this as a benefit, as Moorpark, Oxnard and Ventura colleges serve high school students enrolled in the dual enrollment program to students well over age 50.
For the fall 2021 semester, nearly 30% of students were ages 25 and above; 838 students were 50-plus. According to the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office, 42.3% of students statewide were 25 and above in 2016-17 (the latest statistic published).
Ventura County’s community colleges understand the challenges nontraditional, older students face when deciding to return to school, noting studies that show it becomes more difficult for people to return to school the longer they stay away.
Students decide to enroll in college for a variety of reasons, some are a personal choice and others are out of necessity.
“Layoffs, divorce, lack of opportunity for growth or promotion in their current industry, and unfulfilled career goals are all cited as reasons older people have chosen to return to college or enroll for the first time, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC),” noted an article published in the March 2020 issue of INSIGHT Into Diversity.
For some, it’s to fulfill a long-ago promise to themselves to get a degree and serve as an inspiration to their families.
“I never thought that at 64 years old I would finally achieve a goal that was long overdue but totally worthwhile. I am graduating with two associate of science degrees and a cumulative GPA of 3.91. Winning!” wrote a Ventura College graduate in the college’s virtual yearbook.
An Oxnard College graduate wrote, “I began this journey in the fall of 1997 with no idea where it would lead…I finally finished what I started at the age of 63.”
“I am glad I returned back to Oxnard College after 38 years,” wrote another student, who added until they went to a VCCCD college, they never thought they could complete their education.
These students are a testament to perseverance. They also show how being older can be an asset in the classroom. Older students have real-world experience—from the workplace and their personal lives—that they can share with their younger peers, and they tend to be more goal-oriented, focused and committed to their studies. Additionally, research has shown that people may be able to help slow cognitive aging through lifelong learning.
Stepping into a college classroom can be stressful for someone who has not been in college for a long time, or who is entering for the first time, so Ventura County’s community colleges help new students acclimate and offer a range of student support services.
Students can take classes at our colleges online – asynchronously – to learn on their own time, which can help them balance their commitments to work and raising a family. In addition, our colleges enable students to borrow a laptop or Wi-Fi hotspot, ensuring they have access to web-based courses and related materials.
Students with young children can receive assistance through our colleges’ Child Development Centers, giving them time to focus on their classes, while their children receive care in a safe and nurturing environment.
Academic counselors provide support to nontraditional students by helping to create an educational plan to achieve their goals. College faculty also work with students by meeting with them during office hours to answer questions about assignments.
Furthermore, students can connect with campus-based tutors for additional assistance in understanding basic-level and more advanced subjects. Mental health counselors provide students with stress-reduction strategies, among other services.
Experienced and aspiring professionals can find many affordable, high-quality courses, degree and certificate options and personal enrichment classes at the district’s colleges.
We invite adults of all ages to expand their knowledge and skills in and outside the classroom. Taking a class online or in-person or pursuing a degree can be rewarding by keeping your mind engaged, and it can help your career.
Remember, you’re never too old to go back to school.
Greg Gillespie, Ph.D., is the chancellor of the Ventura County Community College District.