Grown-Ups Who Go Back to School

Melaine Lehman of Wake Forest is juggling a busy schedule this year at Meredith College. Entering her junior year as a mass communications major, she will be taking 18 credit hours and studying to continue her Dean’s list grades. Lehman also will be balancing two part-time jobs, five active children and a busy husband.

At 41 years old, Lehman is just one of many Triangle residents who are heading back to the classroom at local universities and colleges. Many are pursuing an undergraduate degree, others working on graduate study and more taking classes for fun or personal enrichment. To help accommodate these older students, many schools have developed special programs aimed at making starting or returning to campus easier.

“We continue to see our programs grow all the time for adults wanting to take classes,” says Paula Gilbert, director of Duke University Continuing Studies. “Some want to take regular undergraduate classes, others want to take a class to enhance their work experience and some just audit a class for personal enjoyment.”

Programs for these adult students vary across the Triangle. Online classes, evening and Saturday programs and distance education opportunities are ways many local universities are reaching older students.

Meredith College offers one of the more structured programs aimed specifically at adult students returning to college. Established in 1972, the college’s 23+ program offers support and guidance to older women who want to earn an undergraduate degree or a second degree, or complete a major. Approximately 300 students ranging in age from 23 to 57 are enrolled in the program. More than 100 new students enter the program each academic year.

Lehman, who is attending college for the first time, selected Meredith because of the special program for adult students. She started attending classes part-time, but soon enrolled full-time. Now, she plans to graduate in winter 2005 or spring 2006.

“All the women in the program are just like me, ” Lehman says. “Everyone there has been so supportive and helpful.”

The 23+ program offers an orientation geared toward adult students, workshops to help with study skills, review classes in high school algebra and English composition and a campus organization called Women in New Goal Settings (WINGS). The strong support network especially helped Lehman last semester when she was injured in a car accident. Everyone worked together to keep her up-to-date on class assignments and homework.

“We work to help our adult students adjust to the campus and college life,” says Susan Adams, director of the 23+ undergraduate degree program. “We can help students achieve a lifelong goal of earning a college degree.”

N.C. State University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and N.C. Central University all offer credit and noncredit programs for adult students. Certificates for those seeking more work-related training, online courses, independent studies, off-campus credit studies and self-paced study online are a variety of the programs being offered for older students.

Both NCSU and UNC have large separate facilities housing their continuing education programs. At NCSU’s McKimmon Center for Extension and Continuing Education, adult students can learn about both credit and non-credit classes. The Friday Center for Continuing Education coordinates the programs at Carolina.

“Most of the area schools and universities are offering more programs geared toward adults seeking degree or non-degree work,” says June Blackwelder, associate director for policy, planning and communications at The Friday Center. “Online programs offer a great deal of flexibility to help meet the schedules of many working adults.”

Last year, The Friday Center served 2,622 continuing education students, 1,644 independent studies students and 2,510 off-campus credit students.

Through the McKimmon Center at NCSU, students can take day and evening classes to gain admission to the university, update professional skills or complete courses to transfer to another university. Distance education also is available through cable television, Internet, correspondence or videocassettes.

The McKimmon Center also houses the Encore Center for Lifelong Enrichment, offering non-credit courses, study trips and special events for adults over 50. Duke University’s Continuing Studies program also offers a wide variety of classes through its Institute for Learning in Retirement. The majority of these programs are offered during the day.

NCSU and Duke also offer a number of certificate programs aimed at improving or enhancing job skills. Many of the classes are available at night or on the weekends to accommodate the working student. Eleven certificate programs are offered by Duke’s Continuing Studies. These programs include paralegal studies, ESL teaching and technical communications. NCSU has six certificate programs such as maintenance management school and accounting and taxation. N.C. Central in Durham also offers a recreation management certificate, designed for those working on the parks and recreation field.

“We have seen a tremendous increase in the interest for professional training and development,” says E’Vonne Coleman, assistant director of Duke Continuing Studies. “Some are preparing for national certification exams, others are preparing for a career change and still others just want to expand their knowledge in their field.”

Both Wake Technical Community College and Durham Technical Community College offer a variety of credit and non-credit programs for working adults. Traditionally, community colleges have offered numerous evening classes to help meet the schedules of working adults.

“Durham Tech has seen tremendous growth in both our credit and non-credit programs,” says Wanda Winslow, vice president of institutional support services. “In the past two years, we have tripled the number of non-credit course offerings due to the demand.”

Last year, Durham Tech had 7,566 students enrolled in its non-credit continuing education program. More than 4,000 of these were taking occupational-related classes.

“Everyone all across the Triangle seems to be seeing a growth in their continuing education programs,” Winslow says. “Evening classes, online classes and a variety of programs makes it so much easier for people to go back to school.”

For More Information …

Duke University
Duke Continuing Studies
(919) 684-6259

Durham Technical Community College
Durham Technical Continuing Education Department
(919) 686-3651

Meredith College – 23+ Program
(919) 760-8581

N.C. State University
McKimmon Center for Extension and Continuing Education
Credit programs: (919) 515-2265
Encore Center for Lifelong Enrichment: (919) 515-5782

North Carolina Wesleyan Adult Programs
Main Campus: (252) 985-5200
Triangle Campus: (919) 465-4777

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The Friday Center for Continuing Education
(919) 962-3000

Wake Technical Community College
Wake Technical Continuing Education Department
(919) 662-3500