Community colleges attract students from all walks of life, often ranging in age from 19 to 69, each with their own unique experiences. Older students can sometimes be the friendliest classmates. They didn’t grow up in an age where everyone texted instead of talked; they’re not afraid to be chatty. Nearly 1,400 students enrolled this semester are over the age of 21, according to MCCC Registrar Tracy Vogt. Due to the rise in dual-enrolled high school students, the mean age of students has been driven down to 23. Despite that, older students who may be returning from previous college tries or returning from serving in the military, are still common in classrooms. These students are often referred to as the “nontraditional” group, many of whom did not attend college right after high school or may be returning after dropping out years ago. All of them, however, have had a certain amount of life experience that has led them here to MCCC.
Joe Neal, 45, is among that age group. Joe had his life planned out after high school, enrolling in Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, to become an architect. He completed one year before learning that his girlfriend was pregnant.
“I made the decision to leave school and get a job and I joined the military,” Joe said. “It was more important to be a father.”
Joe also said that while he loves his children, he would have done things differently, not “stupidly” getting off track. He would have asked for more help from his parents. Joe spent six years in the military before coming home to help support his children. He and his wife eventually had four more kids. After his wife earned her MBA, Joe got back on track to earn his degree in Architecture.
He was hesitant at first to upset his family’s comfortable routine, but with encouragement from his wife, he enrolled. Joe almost went to the University of Toledo, but decided on MCCC after learning his daughter was planning to attend the Middle College.
“I’m glad I did because it’s a lot more personal here and having been out of the school system for a while, I think it helped me get acclimated to being a student and studying and being on deadlines,” Joe said.
He also said that even though he is on the same campus as his daughter, he likes to give her space. His children have been a big influence in his decision to attend school and excel in it.
“I just felt hollow telling them to go to school and achieve their dreams when I hadn’t achieved mine,” Joe said.
When Joe got a B in one of his classes in his second semester, his daughter handed out the same punishment he used on her.
“She said, ‘Dad, let me have your cell phone; if I got a B would you take my cell phone?’ “And I would, because that’s not her best.”
He gave her his phone for the weekend after they agreed he could do better than a B. School always came easy to Joe, but he quickly realized that school was not the same, nor was he.
“That was the hardest thing for me, instead of sitting down and saying ‘I got this,’ it’s like, ‘no, you’ve been removed from this for 20 years; no you don’t have this.’”
Joe has four semesters left to complete at MCCC before transferring to Eastern Michigan University. He feels much better prepared having gone to MCCC first before transferring
“I’m getting my confidence back,” Joe said.
Janice Hylinski shared similar challenges when she decided to go back to school. She attempted to earn an associate’s degree when her daughter was 4, but didn’t complete it at that time. A potential computer aid job coaxed her into finishing her associates’ degree. She wanted to make herself more marketable to future employers when she had a young child to support.
“Learning how to study again and raising a child, and working part-time, and then going to school part-time, was always a juggle,” Janice said.
Janice said she wishes she would have done things differently and gone to college right after high school.
“My parents didn’t really encourage that when I was a kid,” Janice said. “It wasn’t really something that you spoke of.”
Janice is currently part of the MCCC support staff, working in the archival section of the library. She is simultaneously pursuing her bachelor’s degree in communications through the Siena Heights program. She welcomed the advances in technology that some of her peers struggled with when she re-enrolled. Janice described graphic design as one of her passions and hopes to find a career in the field.
“Once we got a computer in our home and they started offering classes, that’s where I gravitated towards,” Janice said.
Janice also found out the benefits of coming back to school at this point in her life, already having raised a child and having some work experience. She wanted to prove to herself that she could achieve this goal.
“As you get older, I think you take it a little bit more seriously,” Janice said. “Especially when you’re paying for it, as far as what grade you’re going to get, so I think that’s actually an advantage because it’s a little more important to you then.”
Mark Hall, director of Admissions and Guidance, also observes that older students have a certain appreciation for school and an understanding that younger students may not have.
“Usually, older students have a little bit more directed motivation because they usually have families,” Hall said.
“They understand the value of time and they want to take care of business.”
Hall sees non-traditional students come through his office daily and does his best to acclimate them into the school system. He also said that some students who have returned after previously failing to get through college, often come back to be A and B students.
“Non-traditional students usually come in sometimes with a little apprehension because they’ve been out of school,” Hall said.
At age 71, Antoinette Kuzich is usually the oldest person in her classes. She admitted that she sometimes feels out of touch with her classmates.
“I kind of felt out of the loop,” Antoinette said. “They’re just not doing the things I’m doing.”
Antoinette recalled an experience in her speech class where she was asked to give a persuasive speech and she chose the topic of walking for fitness. She worked with her professor to make the speech relatable to the rest of the class.
“The kids aren’t thinking about their health, because they’re all real young,” she said.
Antoinette only takes one class in the Fall and one class in the Winter, and she only sticks to topics that she likes. She even voluntarily takes courses over again if she really liked them. She also said that she enjoys the atmosphere and the experience of meeting people.
“I like the school because it’s not that big, the teachers have time for you,” she said.
The campus is bigger now, however, than when she first enrolled in classes at MCCC in 1977. This year will be her eleventh consecutive year of taking classes here. She worked for Toledo hospitals for 15 years, but has since retired and always wanted to go back to school. She had already earned a degree in medical record technology at Henry Ford Community College.
“Things have really changed a lot,” she said.
She cited the Gay Straight Alliance on campus as something that wouldn’t have happened in her generation, as well as more options being available for women.
“You just didn’t have a lot,” she said.
After Antoinette got married at age 20 and raised her children, she needed a challenge, so she took the risk.
“I was too scared to do it, but I finally took the first step,” she said.
“Most of the time kids are nice, very respectful.” She has even had one class with her grandson, Kameron.
“I wasn’t used to going to school with family,” Kameron said.
He was happy he had somebody he could talk to about the subjects he liked, such as the World History class they shared last year.
“I’d never talked about the subject matter of any class with anyone before,” Kameron said. “A lot of us want to go in and get out as quick as we can, so I think the age gap was interesting,” he said.
Antoinette said she has no long-term education goals; she attends simply for fun.
“I think no matter how old you get, you should keep learning things,” she said. “Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you want to turn over and die.”