It’s common to think of education as a straight road with no stops: after high school graduation comes college and then a career. For some, however, speed bumps, pit stops and reroutes are all a part of the journey; many students are entering college later in life to pursue their dreams on their own schedule.
Many adult learners pursue higher education with the hopes of expanding their career options, changing careers or to stay competitive in their current career by earning new qualifications. Some return to higher education after other priorities such as family or military service put their education plans on hold. Others simply want to keep learning.
Victoria Bartlett ’23
For adult learners, the weight of external responsibilities can make college especially difficult to navigate. Child care, finances and scheduling their life around a rigorous academic calendar are common challenges they face - and Gannon provides the resources needed to overcome them.
As of spring 2023, university data shows that 16.8 percent of students enrolled in both graduate and undergraduate programs at Gannon are 25 years of age or older, coming to a total of 745 non-traditional students.
“Adult students bring so much to the university and are so hard-working,” said Heidi Noyes, director of commuter life at Gannon. “They often juggle families and work responsibilities and are such dedicated students. The sacrifices they make in order to be here are incredible and their determination is unstoppable.”
For cybersecurity student Victoria Bartlett ’23, the greatest challenge as an adult learner was assimilating into an entirely new technical and social culture.
“It was weird to have classmates who already had three years of coding experience as first-year [students]. Smartphones were just becoming popular when I graduated from high school. Terms like STEM just weren’t a thing then,” she said. “I was also used to working with people of all different ages and being in a leadership position, so it was strange to come back to square one.”
After high school, Bartlett planned on majoring in accounting. Not being able to see herself in that career long term, she unenrolled before her first semester and began working at a local supermarket. It was here that she discovered her passion for coding after she was asked to write a piece of code to calculate a special profit metric. Eager to find a career where she could utilize this talent, she enrolled in Gannon’s cybersecurity program in 2019 at the age of 25.
Gannon has many resources in place to help adult learners thrive. The Returning to Education Adult Program lounge, located in the A.J. Palumbo Academic Center, served as a comfort to Bartlett. Equipped with convenient everyday amenities, the lounge offers a place to study, socialize and connect with other non-traditional students.
“The REAP lounge is a wonderful place for me to get some studying done in a quiet setting on campus, especially as a commuter,” Bartlett said.
For radiologic science student David Bostaph ’23, Gannon’s ability to make him feel welcome and allow him to comfortably acclimate into an academic setting made his experience as an adult student all the better, even when he didn’t feel confident.
“It’s very daunting as an adult, to come to a campus full of individuals the same age as your own children,” he said. “You feel like you do not belong, and it’s easy to see yourself as a ‘failed adult’ who has to hit reset and try again.”
“I’m already looking at ways to take this new path into areas I never thought were possible. You will never know what the possibilities are if you never try.”
- David Bostaph
Before coming to Gannon, Bostaph worked 20 years in retail while he and his wife supported their five kids. He stayed with various companies for years, but never really enjoyed what he was doing. His family eventually came into a position where he could return to school, so he enrolled in Gannon’s two-year radiologic science program.
David Bostaph ’23
Bostaph credits Gannon faculty and staff for being supportive of his journey. From admissions creating a schedule of adult education classes needed for his program, to the office of commuter life, he easily found a place that he felt comfortable in. He also thanks his wife, without whose support he would not be able to continue his education.
Speaking to others who are considering going back to school as an adult, Bostaph said there’s no such thing as too late.
“I turn 49 this year. My professional career is just starting and I’m already looking at ways to take this new path into areas I never thought were possible. You will never know what the possibilities are if you never try. The only one telling you ‘No’ is you.”
Bartlett offered another piece of advice regarding finances, and how adult students shouldn’t be discouraged if they don’t find many scholarships at first. “When I initially began looking at going to college, I couldn’t apply for 90 percent of the scholarships because applicants had to either be in high school or already attending a college,” she said. “However, once I began my studies, I was able to apply for many different scholarships. By receiving scholarships from Gannon on top of outside scholarships, my tuition became very affordable.”
Bartlett is currently working as an intern for Erie Insurance. Once she graduates, she will work there full time as part of the two year IT apprentice program. Bostaph would like to further his development in computed tomography with a specific interest in paleontology and archelogy fields.