A family crisis meant Gloriann Switzer had to drop out of college in her freshman year to help support her mother. “I took some courses at night when I was working full-time and that was going well. Then I met my husband and we got married and wanted to have children, so I put my education on hold.”
After her twins, the youngest of her three children, graduated from high school in 2016 and went off to college, Switzer decided it was time for her to hit the books again as well. There were many challenges being a non-traditional student, but the rewards far outnumbered them. In December, Switzer will complete coursework for a B.S. in Liberal Studies, with a concentration in Child Advocacy, and minors in Sociology and Addiction Counseling. She plans to participate in commencement ceremonies in May.
What was it like returning to college after so many years?
“It was different,” Switzer says. “The students that I have encountered are so smart, mature and kind. When I was college age, in the 1980’s, the theme of going to college was mostly to party and leave home.” But years of life experience changed her perspective, and partying was not on the syllabus this time around. “When you come back as an older student you’re emotionally, intellectually, physically more committed,” she says.
Switzer will discuss her experience as a non-traditional age student as part of a panel discussion offered on Zoom titled “Adult Student and Recent Alumni Panel, an afternoon of networking and reuniting with alumni, students, faculty, and staff,” from 3 to 4 p.m. Oct. 28. Registration is required and available here.
The goal of the event is to shine a light on the lived experiences of adult students at Worcester State University. For the first 40 minutes, the panel will give presentations on what it’s like to be post-traditional student in a college environment. The panel will include current adult students and recent alumni. The last 20 minutes of the program will be an opportunity for attendees to ask the panelists questions.
Marilyn Cleary, Ed.D., assistant dean of graduate and continuing education, says the event is intended for a wide audience, including faculty, staff, alumni, and students. Cleary is collaborating with the Innovation Working Group of the President’s Cabinet, which is presenting the event along with the Worcester State Alumni Association.
“It’s really an appreciation of the diversity of our campus,” Cleary says. “We certainly have ethnic and racial diversity here, but we also have age diversity and I think it will be very interesting for traditional-aged students to see a different perspective and to really be able to appreciate what adult students bring to the classroom experience.”
Cleary says it is important to pay attention to adult students because their numbers are growing and they make a significant impact on our community at Worcester State and beyond. “Post-traditional students have different needs in order to successfully complete their degrees and WSU is working hard to ensure student success,” she says.
The challenging situation post-traditional age students find themselves in when re-entering college was summed up by an older student Cleary had interviewed while working on her doctoral dissertation. “She said that traditional-age students can work their classes around their other responsibilities – in other words, they have the ability to do their laundry or whatever they need to do at any time – whereas post-traditional age students have to work their classes around their life. So, it’s a completely different experience, and you get a better perspective when you look at it that way.”
After so many years away from campus life, Switzer found that students are different today than when she first went to college. “Today, students seem to have a deeper appreciation for the importance of their education and take it more seriously,” she says. “That’s not to say they do not have fun, but they invest more time and talent into their studies and creating and keeping lifelong friendships that continue post-graduation. It really is a pleasure to learn with them and get to know them a bit.”
What would she say to others who are considering enrolling in college later in life? “I’d tell them ‘Go for it,’” she says. “If you’re considering it, do it. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be a degree. It could be a certification or it could be a course. Where I work, I hear so many of the adults say ‘I should do something. I should do this or that,’ and I say ‘It’s never too late. Do it. You’ll be glad you did.’”
In the above photo: Gloriann Switzer
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