Many teenagers look forward to finishing high school and beginning college as the time when they can finally escape their parents. But for an increasing number of American families, the start of a teenager’s college career is coinciding with a parent’s return to the classroom. For these families, attending college becomes a multi-generational affair.
While some teenagers might cringe at the idea of being in a class alongside a parent, others are finding that sharing the experience of community college with Mom or Dad provides unexpected benefits alongside its inevitable challenges.
Why Parents and Children are Increasingly Attending Community College Together
A recent Chicago Tribune article notes that the increase in parents and students who are sharing the same community college campus is a result of two social forces:
- The recession is driving many working adults to return to school to pursue a new degree. According to the Tribune, Illinois’s Harper Community College has seen the population of adult students jump by 17.5 percent this semester from spring 2009.
- Tighter family budgets are causing more high school graduates to start taking courses at more affordable community colleges rather than going immediately to a more expensive four-year college or university.
This video offers tips for parents going back to college.
The Benefits of Parents Becoming Students Themselves
Parents who attend community college along with their adolescent children often find unexpected benefits.
- Practical Benefits - Parents and children may be able to carpool on their way to school, and 19- and 20-year-old community college students often find that being able to meet Mom between classes and letting her buy lunch is a surprisingly pleasant situation.
- Bonding - Lupe Wolske, a 43-year-old Chicago-area mother of four who is in her second year as a community college student, tells the Chicago Tribune that her daughter Megan and she have grown “a lot closer since we've been going to school together. She helps me with math, I help her with English … and we're always bouncing ideas off each other.”
- Inspiration - Students whose parents become their classmates often find that they are inspired by the drive and dedication that their parents show in pursuit of their academic goals. Anna Horton, a 19-year-old community college student whose 49-year-old mother is also a community college student, tells the Chicago Tribune that "My mom is doing homework all the time — even when it's not due the next day. She's showing me what I need to do, so I don't have to struggle in life."
The Benefits of Older Students Returning to School
The primary reason that moms are choosing to return to school is financial. In this challenging economy, jobs are more difficult to find than they once were, and many unemployed Americans are realizing that they need to develop new skills or earn additional certifications if they want to have a chance at making a living.
As the Yakima Herald recently reported, the most recently available U.S. Census data indicates that people with a bachelor's degree earn an average of $2.1 million during their working lives, while people who possess only a high school diploma earn a lifetime average of $1.2 million. A college degree, in other words, brings with it increased chances of financial stability.
The Chicago Tribune notes that older women who lack formal higher education have been especially hard hit by the recession. According to Business Week, in 2007, women with some college but no degree were unemployed at nearly twice the rate of women who possessed a bachelor’s degree or higher. Since the start of the recession in 2008, the difference in job prospects between those with college degrees and those with no college degrees has become even starker for some women.
Illinois’s Harper Community College aims to help older women who have been hurt by the recession through their Women’s Program, which offers financial and academic support for “displaced homemakers” – women who have lost a prior source of income due to divorce, death of a spouse, or a spouse’s unemployment or disability.
This video discusses attending college as a mature student.
Older Community College Students Face Challenges
Parents of young adults who choose to return to school themselves face a special set of challenges that their 18- and 20-year-old classmates may not have to confront. The Chicago Tribune quotes Diana Gudowski, a community college student, as saying that "It's much easier to do this right the first time, before you have to juggle a lot of family and household responsibilities.”
Lupe Wolske, the community college student who is also a mother of four, tells the Tribune that she always keeps her textbooks in the car, so that when she finds a few minutes between shuttling her children between various sports practices and dance rehearsals, she can use the time to squeeze in some studying.
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