We’re in the process of welcoming a new group of mature and transfer students to New Student Orientation. The mature student experiences post-secondary education in a different way. Their extra-curricular realities can leave them in a state of “constant renegotiation and adaption” (Kasworm, 2008, p. 29). The decision to prioritize education among the many other stressors in their lives is continuous, their motivations are different, and their needs in terms of support are unique (McCune, Hounsell, Christie, Cree, & Tett, 2010; Mercer, 2007; Waller, 2006). Internationally, the mature student population is also predicted to experience the biggest growth (Randall, 2012; Taylor & House, 2010) so how we respond to those needs now is important.
In an effort to provide a glimpse into the experience of a mature student, I’d like to share a little bit of my own experience. I’ve alluded to it in previous posts but I’m going to say it proudly here: I’m a mature student. I returned to school in January 2013. I had a full time job, a partner, and by the end of my first year of part-time study, I was a mother. Suddenly, the decision I had made to pursue graduate studies was complicated. The initial complication was financial. The tuition and fees I paid each semester had a new value. For example, my new son’s swimming lessons for a year were the equivalent of the ancillary fees for one course, and his nursery furniture cost less than the tuition for one course. After a lifetime of believing that education is positive and valuable, I began to feel guilty and I found myself torn.
I started to see the cost of schooling in terms of gains and losses. For example, while I would gain an advanced degree in subject I am passionate about, I would lose time with my son. Though I would learn a great deal, I knew I would not be able to achieve at the level I would normally expect of myself. The feeling of accomplishment I will gain at the end of this process comes at the expense of whatever hours of sleep I had left. Did I mention the sleep loss?
In the end, for personal and professional reasons, I chose to continue my journey through education. I tried to meet graduate-level expectations during my son’s naps, read articles while breastfeeding, and at six-week-old, my son introduced himself to my online class during an interactive session with a perfectly timed scream. I understand that post-secondary studies are seldom glamorous for students, but on top of stress and deadlines, my experience has included poopy diapers, sleep regressions, colic, separation anxiety, and an overwhelming desire to do nothing but teach my son the alphabet.
Each mature student we will welcome in the coming days will have a different story. They will come with experiences from different walks of life and they will have been drawn to Nipissing University by different motivations. I’m looking forward to hearing as much about it as they’re willing to tell me.