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We Need More "Older" Students

Updated on April 15, 2012

Older Students are Often Better Students

A while ago, I was talking to a student in one of my community college courses who was in his late 40’s. In addition to taking my class, he told me that he had two jobs and was the father of three kids. This was why he was not very sympathetic when other students, who generally got lower grades than he, complained about how busy they were. This was part of a general conversation in which he was explaining why he felt out of place in his classes. Almost everyone else, after all, was so young, and they better fit the profile of the “typical” college student.

I told him that there was no reason to feel that he did not belong. If any people do not belong in college, it is many of those so-called “typical” eighteen-to-twenty-year-old college “students.” Every semester, there will always be a certain percentage of these younger students that have no business being there. In some cases, their academic abilities are not adequate for passing a college class. In even more cases, however, it seems to be more a case of immaturity. Many lack the self-discipline necessary to succeed at a level where they are expected to be more self-motivated and will no longer receive passing grades simply for sitting in a room and aging. Others lack any sense of direction or purpose. They are apparently going to college for lack of anything better to do, or they just assume that college is 13th grade, the next natural step in the process of development. As a result, they are often taking up space that could be better utilized by others, a fact that I find particularly frustrating in an age of class shortages.

Older students, on the other hand, are generally more likely to succeed. They have more of a sense of purpose, and they have often developed more emotional and intellectual maturity. In many cases, they have realized that a lack of a college degree has created limitations on their career prospects. For others, they have finally figured out what they really want to do, and they are looking to enter a career field that will be more than just a job. In short, life experiences have showed them the value of a college degree, so they tend to take things more seriously. So I say to prospective older college students everywhere: you are all welcome in my classes. There are only so many flaky eighteen-year-olds that I can stand.

As a society, we need to move away from this notion that education is something primarily for the young. College in particular should be a place set aside for those who truly have a desire to better themselves, not those who are proceeding through a system or going through a “rite of passage.” In an age where rapid change is the norm, continuous, lifelong education is a must. And in an age where educational resources are limited, we need to move away from a mindset that college is a place for people who have reached a certain age. Colleges should actively recruit older students, and younger people should be asked to consider seriously whether or not college is a place where they really want to be.

Check out my new book

I recently published an American History book that I am using in my community college survey courses. The link below will take you to a hub that provides more details:


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