In a class of their own

Erin Miller

College. Most would describe it as the time of their lives, filled with studying, partying, making new friends and a first glance at responsibility. No parents, no curfews and few worries outside the academic world. But for some Quinnipiac students, classes are just one of their many real-world responsibilities. They are the over-23 set at QU and their demographic is a growing one.

Quinnipiac has more than 78 adults over 29 years old enrolled in part-time undergraduate courses on campus this semester, mostly in night lecture classes. Among them is Carol Caprio, 35. She is a paralegal who decided to return to QU after attending Quinnipiac College in 1991 and 1992. Her goals are to attend the Quinnipiac Law School and eventually work for the F.B.I.

She is happy at Quinnipiac and is comfortable with her place on campus except for one detail.

“I wish I did not have the financial responsibilities that I have,” Caprio said. “I would love to live on campus and attend school full-time.”

Caprio is not alone. In her international business class there are two other adult students. Sandra McCarthy, 34, also wishes to enter law school and eventually become a judge, and Jamie Gray, 29, is looking to obtain her degree in radiology.

As Caprio, McCarthy and Gray take their seats in their course together, they stand out not because of age or appearance, but because they are all avid participators, constantly engaging with their professor and adding comments and outside information to the discussion.

A similar situation can be found in a Music 130 class on Tuesday nights. Two adult students, Stacey Bjornberg, 42, and Celeste Schmaltz, 44, also face similar responsibilities. Bjornberg is a student as well as an admissions assistant at Quinnipiac. She decided to transfer here from Middlesex Community College and wants to get a degree in the Liberal Arts.

Schmaltz is a manager of a respiratory therapy department.

“I need to get a bachelor’s degree, because that was what was required for this position when I was promoted to it two years ago. They gave me the position with the provision I would go back to school and get my degree,” she said.

Both Bjornberg and Schmaltz agree that the time QU courses require can leave them exhausted by the end of the day.

“Sometimes it is difficult to manage school between work, kids, husband, house, etc. I do homework on my lunch break or when the kids go to sleep. Sometimes I even do my reading when I go to swim meets or cross country events for my children,” Bjornberg said.

It is unanimous that the adult students interviewed seem happy at the university amidst their busy schedules. However, they also stand united on their stance that the university needs more courses available in the evening.

Quinnipiac’s Web page for part-time students states that, “Quinnipiac recognizes that the desire to obtain a college education may be limited for the adult student. The demands of work or family may not allow continuation or completion of a degree in the traditional manner. Quinnipiac offers the part-time student an opportunity to attend classes and pursue a degree with flexible scheduling and customized degree programs.”

All the students interviewed agreed that Quinnipiac has eased their experiences through the easy paperwork, acceptance of transfer credits and timely responses to inquiries.

Inversely, Caprio, added: “I feel QU needs to cater a little bit more to the evening adult students. Most of the university’s activities are geared toward the traditional daytime students. QU needs to realize that a lot of adults are making career changes and going back to school. It would be beneficial to include some traditional classes in the evening that are currently only available during the day.”

McCarthy agreed and said younger students should, “be nice to the older students. Many of us are exhausted by the time we come to class. Most of us have full time work and families that depend on us, so please be considerate,” she said.

Adult students may also have something to offer back to the school. With their work and family experiences, Lynne Hodgson, chair of the sociology, social services, gerontology, and anthropology department states on the Web site, “Adult undergraduate students are among the best I teach. The reason I find these students so exciting is that they have had relevant experiences within their families and the workplace,” she said. “They are as apt to offer up information as to take it in.”

So, when asked to offer up any information or advice to the younger college undergraduates, these students were eager to speak up.

“Don’t waste your education, take it seriously and do your best,” Caprio said. “Really think about what you love to do and major in it, and don’t pick a career path for the money.”

McCarthy’s worlds of wisdom are simple but timeless. “You are never too old to learn,” she said.