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Non-Traditional Students Prove It’s Never Too Late to Learn

Adult couple stands in their garage

“I tried college at 18 and I tried again in my 20’s,” lamented David Mejias, a 35-year-old father of two who credits the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) for much of his academic success at Hudson Valley Community College.

Mejias, who last semester earned a 3.8 GPA, is among the adult learners who have been admitted to SUNY through EOP. The 52-year-old program is offered on 49 SUNY campuses, including 19 community colleges. It provides academic, personal and financial support to low-income students who show promise of succeeding in college but who may not have otherwise been offered admission.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, over 40 percent of current college students are over the age of 25, almost 30 percent have children, and over 60 percent work at least part-time. Of the nearly 10,000 EOP students enrolled in the fall of 2019, more than 640 were defined as adult learners. They come from diverse backgrounds, range in age from 25 to over 65, and share a hunger to learn and a deep desire to complete their degrees.

Adult Learners Demonstrate Grit and Perseverance

“School is hard, especially in the beginning. It’s a different world on campus,” Mejias said. “I didn’t realize my potential, but EOP made me feel supported. I’m living proof that it works if you try.”

EOP supports students throughout their college careers. Each student is assigned an EOP counselor, attends a pre-freshmen summer program, has access to one-on-one and group tutoring and supplemental instruction and receives a modest stipend for books, supplies and other educational expenses. These services are particularly important for non-traditional students who often have interrupted their educations and may need to strengthen their study and time management skills to get back on track.

Ebony Parmer has wanted to be a nurse ever since she was young girl. She worked as a home health aide in her teens and went on to complete a licensed practical nurse program. A 33-year-old mother of four, Parmen aims high and hopes to one day become a pediatrician. She is currently majoring in Health Care Studies at Finger Lakes Community College.

Despite working full time and raising her family, Parmer is determined to complete her studies in two years and take the national licensing exam necessary to become a registered nurse. “I just take it day by day,” said Parmer who expressed gratitude for the personalized attention she receives from her EOP counselor who she said checks in regularly and helps her get through her classes.

“Welcoming and wonderful” is how Imogene Lockwood described her EOP counselor and the staff at SUNY Broome Community College. Lockwood a 46-year-old married mother of five with two grandchildren said whenever she has a problem “EOP is always available to steer her in the right direction.”

Lockwood, who is majoring in liberal arts, said it took her twenty years to enroll in college. She decided to go back to school when she lost a civil service position that required a degree. She has since found another job and now works full-time in the billing department of a private firm while completing her last semester remotely at BCC. “I was very hell bent that I was not going to postpone it (my degree) any more.”

Maizie Millwood, a 54-year-old single mom is setting an example for her two daughters who are also attending college. Millwood began her college studies at Syracuse University a number of years ago before stopping out. She transferred to the nursing program at Onondaga Community College where she currently maintains a 4.0 GPA despite working full time. Millwood said it was hard to get started again but the EOP staff at OCC have helped her in every way that they can. “I encourage people all the time to go back to school, you are never too old to learn.”

Big Ideas

Written by Big Ideas

Big Ideas is the Blog of The State University of New York, published by the Office of New Media.

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