Adults Fill Student Gap On College Campuses

CONTINUING EDUCATION

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ANNE GOTHRO is the kind of student college campuses will be seeing more of in the future. Enrolled full time at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., this 32-year-old former Wyoming coal miner is one of a growing number of adults who are going back to college or are starting for the first time. Ms. Gothro, who is pursuing degrees in liberal arts and civil engineering, decided to return to school to improve her skills and further her education.

According to the College Board, a nonprofit organization that provides tests and other educational services for schools and students, 45 percent of college students in credit-degree programs are 25 or older. That figure is expected to climb to 50 percent by 1993 and is prompting many universities to recruit adults.

Frank Burtnett, executive director of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, calls these nontraditional-aged students ``zoomers'' - a nickname derived from the word ``resume,'' because many are resuming their college education. A shift in motivation and maturity, an increase in company employee-assistance programs, and the changing nature of the work force have encouraged adults to sharpen and learn new skills and has added to the ``zoomer'' surge, he says.

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``Entering, advancing, or changing careers [draw] adults back to school. ... They need that further education to get something - that next job, that next promotion - just entering the market or changing a career,'' says Carol Aslanian, director of the College Board's Office of Adult Learning Services.

At the same time, the baby bust of the late 1960s and '70s has meant fewer college-age students.

``The interesting thing is while the number of 18- to 22-year-olds has declined, this number [adults] has jumped up in the early '80s and continues to be on the plus side. And that's come as a boon to the colleges that would have been devastated by an absolute decline in 18-year-olds or high school graduates,'' Mr. Burtnett says.

To meet ``zoomer'' needs, many colleges offer more flexible programs to accommodate them.

At St. Mary's-of-the-Woods College near Terre Haute, Ind., more than half of the 910 women students earn degrees through independent study, conferring with professors by phone or mail. This program serves many women in rural areas who are unable to complete degrees on campus because of other responsibilities.

Georgia State University, a large commuter campus in the heart of Atlanta, has always catered to the adult student, but has seen a recent surge in adult admissions, according to Ernest Beals, dean of admissions. Besides offering adults flexible course scheduling, the university also provides inexpensive day care on campus.

Wellesley College last year saw a 25 percent rise in the number of adults applying for its Continuing Education program. Started by the faculty in 1970 to upgrade women's skills, the program has been so successful that adults now make up 10 percent of the student body. Continuing Education students have their own house for study groups, informal meetings, and special events. A peer tutoring program helps with study skills and academic consultation.

As schools become more age integrated, Ms. Aslanian expects more recruiting will be done at the workplace, orientations will differ between traditional and nontraditional students, and some institutions may rethink dividing financial aid. ``I predict they make the classroom better - the faculty is more inspired, more challenged,'' she says.

``Traditional students love to have them in class, after the initial shock [wears off]. Not only are they more enthusiastic, but they demand performance in the classroom by faculty and the course programs. I think that's a great advantage, and the professors respond to that,'' Dr. Beals says.

Aslanian says that as the number of jobs in new fields continues to grow, so will the number of adult students.

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