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NIU has a high population of post-traditional students. In the 2018-19 school year, there were 421 undergraduate students and 1,320 graduate students who were age 35 and older, according to the University Data Book. It is never too late to go to college to get a degree. Students of all ages should feel encouraged to attend school and continue their education.

The university has an average undergraduate student age of 22 and an average graduate student age of 32, according to the university website.

“NIU has a significant adult student population here at the DeKalb campus and the satellite campuses of Naperville and Hoffman Estates,” Jeffrey Salmon, associate director of Military and Post-Traditional Student Services, said. “These students are highly motivated and high-achieving. Many of these students look to NIU to help them advance in their careers, change their careers, provide for their families as well as inspire their children.”

Statistics from the National Center for Education show that the number of non-traditional students who study full-time at 4-year institutions are much lower than younger age groups. In 2017, students over the age of 35 only made up 2% of the post-secondary students in public schools, 5% for private, non-for-profit schools and 28% for private, for-profit schools.

A greater number of older students who don’t have a secondary education should consider attending college to receive the benefits of a higher education.

It is important to have a good education and degree in today’s job market. In the future, employers in certain fields will most likely be searching for job candidates who have the most extensive education.

“STEM, healthcare professions, healthcare support and community services will be the fastest growing occupations, but also will require high levels of post-secondary education,” according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Although the thought of starting a college degree and career path later in life might seem intimidating to older people, there are multiple sources of support that should encourage these people to enroll in school.

The Military and Post-Traditional Student Services office is essential for helping adult learners navigate their return to school. It provides services for “locating housing options to computer access and even free coffee,” according to its department website.

“Adult students face many challenges,” Salmon said. “They have to balance work, life and travel to classes. In support, NIU continues to add new online and blended classes [infused online and in-person content]. Depending on the program, there are classes available at the satellites that can be beneficial for some students. NIU’s Child Development and Family center also offers on-campus childcare. There are grants available to help with affordability.”

Carly Buczek is one post-traditional student who has chosen to return to college here at NIU to pursue a music education degree this semester. She said becoming a band director has been her goal since seventh grade, and she had to go back to school in order to achieve this goal.

Her educational and career history includes being part of the United States Marine Corps Band from 1996 to 2000 and attending the Armed Forces School of Music in Norfolk, Virginia. From there she was stationed in Twentynine Palms, California and Okinawa, Japan. From 2000 to 2002, Buczek attended Illinois State University and then began working at State Farm in Bloomington, Illinois.

In 2010 she moved to Oswego, Illinois, where she taught clarinet lessons and started her own photography business, and then from 2018 to 2019 she received her Associate’s Degree at Waubonsee Community College.

She says that her main motivators for coming to NIU to pursue a bachelor's degree in music education is that she was able to get free tuition, most of her work is able to be done from home and her children are now at an age where they can mostly take care of themselves when she is not home.

“While I have no problem making friends and forming relationships with the students around me, I feel I am in a weird zone of having more in common with teachers than the students,” Buczek said. “Balancing full-time work, three kids and full-time school is challenging, but I have my family’s support and my amazing friends and tribe who are there to pick up the slack when needed. How can I complain with all that? The parking here has been my most irritating challenge.”

Education has a value and importance that should not be overlooked. Everyone deserves a chance to acquire knowledge on topics they want to learn about. Attending a university is an important choice for people who want to get ahead in the competitive economy of the U.S. Adult learners should feel welcomed and encouraged to make this choice, no matter what phase of their life they are currently in.

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