If not now, when will you go to college

Students who begin or return to college later in life are sometimes called “non-traditional” students, but they are quickly becoming the norm on campuses nationwide. The numbers may surprise you – 37% of today’s undergraduates are over the age of 25, 24% are parents, and 64% are employed at least part time while in school. As such, non-traditional students bring with them a wealth of life experience, both to the college classroom and to their future careers. Some non-traditional students return to school seeking a new career. Others are simply following their dreams. But whatever the reason, as they strive to achieve their personal and professional goals, these students challenge many stereotypes about who can be successful in college.

As Crystel Loustau prepares to graduate from Fulton-Montgomery Community College this spring, her reputation as a persistent student and caring nurse has led to her success. But there was nothing traditional about her journey to become an RN. In 2008 Crystel decided to put off college when she learned she was expecting her first child. But given her family’s long history in patient care and her personal desire to help people, she always knew she would return to school one day. Almost ten years later, Crystel got her wish when she was accepted into FM’s nursing program. The difference this time? She and her husband were expecting their third child. As Crystel explained, “There were times I thought to myself, “Am I doing the right thing?” Especially with three kids under the age of 10, but I kept reminding myself that this is for my family, and this is for me! It is hard, there will be tears, and much more gray hair, but it is so worth going back to school. There are many programs and scholarships out there that can help you further your education.” One of those programs is the Health Professions Opportunity Grant (HPOG 2.0), through which qualified participants may receive academic and financial support to help them succeed. “[I] wasn’t sure how I was going to make ends meet when it came to school. HPOG pays for my son’s daycare tuition, all my supplies and nursing books, and mileage for my car. It is a wonderful program!”

Erica Clark is another non-traditional success story. She considers her graduation this past December from FM’s Medical Records and Information Technician program one of her greatest accomplishments. But the best moment came when her five-year old daughter looked up and said, “Mom, I’m so proud of you for going to school.” The decision to return hadn’t been easy, especially since Erica is the first person in her family to attend college. But after nearly 20 years working as a Certified Nurses’ Assistant (CNA), she began looking for a new job that would allow her to spend more time with her family. “I said to myself, ‘if not now, then when?’ You don’t get this time back.” Erica expected the coursework would be challenging, and she was right. “There were just so many codes to learn!” But what she didn’t expect was that she would find so much support on campus. “Not having to scramble to come up with resources for materials was wonderful. And just knowing you have someone to talk to when you need help –‘Hey, you got a second?’ — that was so important.” Erica’s advice to other students considering a return to college? “Just do it. You never know what you can do until you do it.”

If you are considering a career in health care, contact FM’s HPOG 2.0 project staff at hpog@fmcc.edu or (518) 332-6305 to see if you qualify. As part of a federal research study, HPOG 2.0 requires all participants to go through an intake process and is lottery-based.

Mary Del Savio, PhD, is the HPOG 2.0 program director at FMCC.