Education doesn’t age: Students and faculty discuss returning to school later in life

By Jess Peterson, Staff Writer

Attending a university is challenging, but making the choice to come back later in life

creates an entirely different experience.

Rosita Byrd moved from New Jersey this year to pursue her master’s degreein social

work at the University. She has been attending the University since August and admits it

has not been an easy adjustment.

“U of I chose me,” Byrd said. “I would never think to come out west because this is

outside my comfort zone.”

Her children inspired her decision to leave her home, sell her possessions and abandon

the life she knew. Byrd has two children, both in college, who convinced her to go back

to school and pursue a higher degree.

“When I would work certain places, my oldest daughter knew I wasn’t really happy,”

Byrd said. “She kept telling me, ‘Mommy, you need to go back and finish,’ and that’s

exactly what I did.”

Donte Winslow, freshman in DGS, understands the challenges for students of non-
typical age, as his mother is graduating from Olivet Nazarene University this

weekend.

“I think it’s inspiring,” Winslow said. “Specifically for my mom, she inspires me because

she’s always like, “I can do it, I’m still working, I still have all these responsibilities, I’m

still your mom, but I’m going to school.””

Winslow’s mother has been taking online classes since his junior year of high school.

She will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

“It was taxing at first, but now it’s rewarding because she knows how to do these things

by herself,” Winslow said.

Applying as an older student is typically a similar process to what incoming freshmen go

through, but it can have its challenges.

According to Kristin Smigielski, associate director of Undergraduate Admissions, it can

be more difficult for older students to apply because they have been outside of higher

education for so long.

Smigielski said these students tend to be pretty place­bound, often tied to spouses who

are relocated to the area or are already C­U locals.

Byrd is graduating this May and is either staying in the area or moving back to New

Jersey, depending on what opportunities she is presented with. She said few students

of non­typical age attend the University, so her experience lacked a sense of

camaraderie.

To help her better adjust, the School of Social Work connected her with Regina Parnell,

alumnus in social work.

“She really transformed me to a certain degree … and I volunteered with her,” Byrd said.

“She showed me and introduced me to the right people, the movers and shakers of

Urbana­Champaign.”

Byrd thinks students of typical college age should embrace their older counterparts. The

value of shared perspectives from different points in life is a connection she said the

non­typical age students have to offer.

In terms of students coming back to school later in life, Byrd encourages others to make

the choice. She believes no one is ever too old to learn and is thankful for the great

education she has received.

“Education is key and something that nobody can take from you,” she said. “If that’s

what makes you happy or something is just missing in your life, and you’re thinking,

‘Hey, I should go back to school, but wait I’m 45 years old,’ so what?”

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