Opinion: Older students find online courses a ‘Godsend”


Marcela Carrillo

Photo courtesy of The Chaparral/Marcela Carrillo. Kevin Mann is a film major at College of the Desert.

Going to college straight out of high school is intimidating. Questions arise. Where do I go? Will I get into the school I want? And, if I do get in,  what will I wear on my first day? Finding your way through college as a young person is always tricky. Finding your way back to college as an adult is entirely different. Life can be scary no matter your age, but being an older student has its unique set of challenges.

The nice thing about going to college straight from high school is; usually, you have an adult support system to help you navigate the challenges. These adults may even help support you financially, house you, feed you and possibly keep a roof over your head. They are there for you when you have a bad day, and they help you emotionally confront the wave of constant frustration.

For adults returning to college after an extended absence, this support system may no longer be intact. As an adult, you are responsible for your bills, your time and your job. Many adults who choose to return to school do so to feel connected. Others strive always to keep learning, and returning to a junior college is an inexpensive way to learn new things while not adversely affecting their pockets. Still, others come back to get the needed credits to finish their degree finally. A degree that they made the difficult choice to sideline due to challenging times. If a support system is intact, that is wonderful. If there is no support system, the option to return to school can be even more harrowing.

Returning to college as an adult opens so many areas of stress. Many colleges are not “working people” friendly. The classes you want sometimes clash with your work schedule. Having kids at home can make taking classes not possible at night. Saturday is the one day you have to yourself, so do you want to give that up to take a class? And then there is the fear. Will the younger students accept you? Will the professors think you are a loser being in college at your age? Will you be able to learn again? Is your brain capable of storing new information? Where will that information go?

According to the College of the Desert’s Institutional Research 15 percent of the students are over 35. As a person who falls into that category, I have to thank the college for implementing many online and hybrid courses. Granted, online courses have become awful, but for working students, online courses can be a godsend. Some classes need to be in person just because of the nature of the class, but in the modern world, I believe online and hybrid courses can bring people back to school who otherwise would not have been able to return.

After receiving an undergraduate degree and working in my field for many years, I wanted to get back to one of my interests–film.  I always loved film but could never figure out how to fit classes into my work life. It was more of a dream and less of something I could see as a viable way to make a living. For that reason, I always put my interest on hold. I had to make a living and dreams do not often pay the bills. I am sure that people’s reasons for returning to college are varied. The fact that I can study something that I love while maintaining my work-life gives me immense pleasure.

Online or hybrid classes are there for everyone, and their effect on the adult student population cannot be underestimated. The wonderful thing is that if the class is synchronous, meaning you meet at scheduled times via Zoom,  you still interact with the other students. You form a sense of community and can bounce ideas off of others. Some people do not like asynchronous classes that are 100% online due to the lack of that interaction. I find asynchronous classes a great way to be introduced to a new subject. You work at your own pace. They fit into your schedule as you can attend them whenever works for you. Also, they give students a chance to process information without the scrutiny of others. And let us not forget the hybrid class. It seems to me that with a hybrid class, you get the best of both worlds. You get the human interaction and community while also having the time to use the online portion. Hybrid classes are those classes that meet in person and online.

So, if you see an older student in Zoom or on campus, remember it took courage for them to be there. Say hi, let us know who you are and we will let you know who we are. Together we can make the college experience a little less scary for each other.