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UMBC stands out in University System with adult learners

When walking around UMBC’s campus, it is not unusual to see a mix of young adults and older individuals. While at another university one might automatically assume that the older individuals were professors or faculty, it is not so easy to distinguish at UMBC.

About 14% of UMBC’s total undergraduate population, roughly 1200 students, are over the age of 25, making UMBC the leader in the University System of Maryland for nontraditional students, also referred to as “adult learners.”

About 300 of those 1200 nontraditional UMBC students are veterans. The university offers a peer mentor program for veterans to ease the transition to life as a new college student. Incoming veterans are paired with experienced veteran students who understand the challenges that they might be going through.

UMBC also actively provides incentives for individuals over the age of 60 to take graduate courses through the Golden ID program. These students, they say, must be at least “60 years young” and work less than twenty hours a week. Participation in the program waives tuition for these students, who instead only have to pay $125 for each course they take.

The university offers a multitude of programs to help adult learners on campus. As the graduate school at UMBC states, “we understand and appreciate the work-life balance that goes into pursuing a degree, raising a family and growing a career.” These programs include Adult Learners Network, Vets 2 Vets, Returning Women’s Support Group, Mother’s Support Group and other sources of assistance for students who may otherwise have a difficult time making connections and supportive networks.

Rhonda Caton, 57, is a psychology major who has been taking courses at UMBC full time for the past two and a half years. If all goes well, she will be graduating this December. She hopes to pursue a career as an addictions counselor.

Her motivation to do this blossoms from the fact that she is five years sober from the use of crack cocaine, an addiction that had plagued her for many years prior. When asked about her experiences at UMBC, she said “I don’t always fit quite in because of my age,” but that she has always felt accepted and has found that teachers have been willing to “bend over backwards” to help her when she has struggled.

The prevalence of older students on college campus is not unique to UMBC. The Center for Law and Social Policy reported that in 2012, four in ten undergraduates were over the age of 25, and that nontraditional-aged student enrollment is expected to grow twice as fast as the enrollment for traditional-aged students in coming years.

Just between 2000 and 2011, the number of nontraditional students in undergraduate programs increased 41 percent, and they comprised 38 percent of all undergraduates in 2011. The addition of older students to the classroom provides invaluable perspectives to students of all ages, giving traditional students access to years of wisdom that can be used to supplement their classroom learning.

While not necessarily distinct, UMBC’s inclusion and encouragement of adult learners is commendable. It benefits all those involved, and such actions should be emulated by other universities in the University System of Maryland.