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Susan Hoffman

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On August 30, CBS News featured a story about freshman Melanie Salazar and her 82-year-old grandfather, Rene Neira, who attend college together at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas. Salazar is a liberal arts major and Neira is pursuing an associate degree in economics. After graduation, Neira hopes to further his education by obtaining a bachelor’s degree.

Unlike Mr. Neira, some adult learners may feel intimidated about returning to school and fitting in with younger students. Adult learners bring several unique qualities to college classrooms that can potentially benefit everyone in the class. These qualities include:

  • Perspective: Adult learners have already lived through eras now considered historic. They provide valuable first-person perspectives on historical events, as well as changes in technology, careers and society.
  • Career experience: When adult learners return to school, they’ve held at least two or more jobs. They can offer potential contacts, networking skills and priceless viewpoints on organizations or career fields. Younger students also learn to make more informed choices about their own degree programs and careers from adult learners.
  • Life experience: Adult learners have raised families, coped with household expenses and traveled to different countries. They’ve managed budgets, organized schedules and picked up soft skills such as problem-solving abilities and good decision making. For younger learners, paying attention to the experiences of adult learners helps them develop the same skills will benefit them later in life.
  • Determination: Adult learners are focused on reaching specific educational goals, whether they seek to gain knowledge that applies to their current careers or want a mid-career transition. These qualities often inspire other students and teach them about the importance of education.
  • Maturity: The maturity level of adult learners is more advanced than other students. They display calmness and wisdom in classes, gained from undergoing life and career experiences.

For adult learners, returning to school has several advantages beyond knowledge acquisition. Prior work or volunteer experience, for instance, can be converted into academic credit through the university’s prior learning assessment program.

Adult learners inspire other generations. They give other people more incentive to succeed, whether that success is in their careers or their lives.

By Susan Hoffman
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