September 5, 2002, Episode Seventeen: Back to School

Laurie, Suzanne and Tish are three women who have lived life fully until now.  They each for their own reasons decided to pursue further education in their mid-40s.  This week we examine non-traditional students and specifically how gender and class contribute to the delaying of education and the decision to pursue further education even if it is late in life, giving a new spin to the words "going back to school."

Michael Harrington and Peter Drucker both have written about the gap between university education and the so-called "real world."  Harrington suggested that the problem lay in how little education was respected in the marketplace.  Drucker suggested that the problem lay in how little education prepared one for the market.  What are the consequences of creating accountable schools that cater to market needs over liberal education?  Is there any way to reverse this trend?   



Labour Day has come and gone. The campus parking lots are full again. Traffic is back to its usual grind. There's no apartment to be rented within miles of campus. Students are lined up to get their identification cards validated and their tuition paid. Notebook, paper, pencil, pen and backpack sales are up. In short, welcome back to school.

In today's episode, we are putting a different spin on the words, quote, back to school, close quote. Back-to-school rhetoric usually evokes images of teenage or 20-something men and women in jeans, t-shirts and backpacks riding bikes to campus and to their part-time jobs. However, Laurie, Suzanne and Tish are 40-something women who have had full-time jobs and a lot of life under the bridge. They have chosen to come back to school after a long hiatus, having graduated from high school before most of today's undergraduates were born. They are what have become known as "non-traditional" students.

Laurie is a grandmother who will be starting a diploma program this fall. Her three children are the age of most college students and are living independently as adults. Suzanne is a single mom whose kids were elementary school age when she decided to start a university program. She has just finished her B.A. and begins graduate work this fall. Tish has never married and has no children, but has had a full career in the restaurant industry. She is augmenting her gourmet skills by going back to school in her mid-40s. She is in her last year of graduate school and hopes to be teaching junior college and writing books by this time next year. These women had more in common than their desire to further their education. They talk about how going back to school is bettering their lives and opening doors of opportunities for them. But it isn't a bed of roses, and their expectations have been tempered by the realities of school and the workforce.

We talked with each of them this week about why they've chosen the non-traditional path, why it seems that women do this more often than men, and what they hope to gain as they work towards their goals and come back to school.

copyright by Pattie Thomas and Carl Wilkerson 2002


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