Returning to school

By Allie Huddleston

While the economic downturn has left thousands unemployed and with fewer options, some are making light of their situations by returning to school.

Nationally, nontraditional students have increased, and this number includes students older than 25. UK has a significant number of these students — between 6,000 and 7,000, said Cecile McKinney, director of Adult Student Services at UK.

“There are a number of reasons (why adults return to school),” McKinney said. “But certainly what comes to the forefront is economic crisis.”

Pam Shaughnessy is one of these students. After working in thoroughbred breeding for more than 20 years, the economy forced her to seek other options.

“It became apparent that I needed to come back (to college),” she said.

Shaughnessy is now completing a degree in philosophy, which she began at George Washington University. She expects to graduate this May and pursue a graduate degree.

Many adult students face challenges that their younger counterparts often do not have to deal with. Adult students usually work full time and have children or other dependents to care for. Also, some are not used to the environment at UK.

“What threw me off about coming to UK is that it was so huge,” said Sonia Burrows, a nontraditional social work freshman. She has found the transition unexpectedly demanding.

Shaughnessy understands how difficult returning to college is.

“That first semester was a real challenge,” she said. “Just getting back is pretty tough.”

Burrows sees these challenges as something to motivate her as she becomes acclimated to the university.

“I’ve come too far to give up, and I’m not going to give up until I succeed,” Burrows said.

Experience and maturity offer advantages to adult students academically, and many enjoy their classroom experiences.

“Adults have good judgment capabilities,” McKinney said.

McKinney also said adult students have a “vested [economic] interest in education,” since many are paying tuition out-of-pocket.

“Usually adult students perform very well … they are outstanding,” McKinney said.

Now, many resources such as financial aid and child care are available for adult students to help them navigate their return to school.

Double the Numbers, a Kentucky initiative to double the amount of adults with bachelor’s degrees by 2020, has also invited many residents to complete degrees. McKinney said about 550 such people contacted her office so they could begin the process.

Back to School, a workshop for adult students or those who wish to return to college, will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 28 in the Student Center Small Ballroom. This workshop will provide financial aid information, services for adult students and advice for balancing careers, families and school.

“It has just been a phenomenal experience to walk right into this educational environment,” Shaughnessy said.