TRIADELPHIA - Local universities report they are seeing older adults going back to school more than ever as educational options continue to grow for busy students with families and careers.
Whether to advance their careers or finish an uncompleted bachelor's degree, older students are finding themselves on the road to the classroom thanks to a variety of programs at West Liberty University and Wheeling Jesuit University.
More than 100 adult students, with an average age of 40, are currently registered in West Liberty's School of Professional Studies program at the WLU Highlands Center, according to Thomas Michaud, dean of the program. In place since 2009, the program is specifically tailored to serving non-traditional, adult students who must balance work, family life and personal interests.
Photo by Sarah Harmon
Students of West Liberty University’s Organizational Leadership and Administration program listen in during an ethics class at the Highlands Center. Pictured are, from front, Sheri Hamasky, Sara Hall and Joel Gorby.
Through this program, a student can complete a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership and Administration within 18 months.
The program recently expanded to West Virginia Northern Community College branches in New Martinsville and Weirton, where students take a class one night a week. Michaud said the expanded program has benefited students from Paden City, Sistersville and even Parkersburg who now have easier commutes to get to a classroom.
Michaud also noted this program has helped several people affected by the Ormet Corp. bankruptcy and shutdown who are looking to gain new employment skills.
"Two of my students are from the Ormet shutdown," Michaud said. "Workforce West Virginia has also been very supportive. This program is the most affordable and most easily accessible for students in that area."
West Liberty also has made significant efforts to welcome veterans back to school and streamline their coursework to earn a bachelor's degree in a short amount of time. Michaud said veterans often are awarded academic credit for skills gained during their military service in order to complete either a degree in the School of Professional Studies or a Regents Bachelor of Arts.
"This is terrific for veterans because they have had many experiences and many skills that should be respected," Michaud said. "Veterans also benefit from very close personal advising with us. We work with each one of them individually and carefully tailor a course of study that would be the best option for them."
Michaud said he believes adults wanting to come back to school has become a national trend and is especially beneficial in West Virginia, where many residents have never earned a bachelor's degree. He said more financial aid options and programs such as West Virginia Higher Education Adult Part-Time Student grant program might be allowing more students to further their education.
Becky Forney, director of professional and graduate studies at Wheeling Jesuit University, said the school's nursing programs are the most popular among older students. Wheeling Jesuit offers a master's degree in nursing with three tracks: family nurse practitioner, nursing education and nursing administration. The Second Degree Nursing program is an 18-month program designed for individuals who have a bachelor's degree in another area, but want to change careers to become a nurse.
"Nursing is very popular," Forney said. "We have the highest enrollment we've had in Master of Science in nursing."
Forney also said more than 450 students are taking online courses that enable students to do coursework when it's convenient, whether it's "four in the afternoon or four in the morning."
WJU offers 12, 15,18 and 22-month programs, so adults can quickly complete a degree, which is most important to older students, Forney said.
"We offer a lot services so students don't have to come to campus," Forney said. "They can just call one person and we try to do the leg work for them. We're moving in the right direction."