Mature students want to be understood -

Mature students want to be understood

Conference at Ryerson draws large numbers, raises important issues


Some time ago I wrote a series of posts concerning mature students, starting with this one. It became an interesting discussion on the various resources that are available (or not available) for mature students. And it was at least part of the motivation for a mature students’ conference that just occurred at Ryerson University, a year later, and where I recently had the pleasure of speaking along with other very interesting panelists.

Big kudos to the Mature Students’ Association at Ryerson (MSAR) for organizing the first-time event. Hopefully it won’t be the last. Certainly the response would justify a regular conference. Of the 130+ attendees most were from the GTA, but a small contingent came down from Guelph and a single intrepid soul ventured down from Lakehead. Additionally, a group of students skyped in from Mount Allison. Isn’t technology wonderful? In any event, the response was enthusiastic, to say the least.

I won’t attempt to summarize the entire content of the conference but a few impressions seem particularly significant. First, just about everyone who doesn’t come from York was deeply envious of the very significant support that mature and part-time students enjoy at York, through the Atkinson Centre. Clearly York has set the standard to follow — and indeed the ability to reference such a benchmark will likely do a lot of good for mature students at other institutions. Good ideas may be emulated elsewhere. And as mature students are a growing demographic, no institution wants to be left behind on this one.

Of course we talked about future employment and the job market. I believe as much as anyone in learning for the love of it, but mature students have even less margin to ignore the financial realities than other students do. Jeremy O’Krafka from RECSOLU spoke on that topic, which is an area where the needs and concerns of mature students diverge especially from those of “traditional” students. His anecdote about younger students showing up with parents to speak with prospective employers struck a particular chord, but that’s probably a topic for another article.

As for myself, I contributed the observation that however much an institution may support mature students, the vast majority of campus resources and opportunities will still remain general to all students. So finding a way to access those opportunities and networks, while perhaps more difficult for mature students, is nevertheless critical. But as so often occurs, I was partially preaching to the already converted. The students who organized and showed up for this conference clearly know how to access the resources available to them. Some even accessed funding from their unions to attend.

Participants referred, on several occasions, to recent stories about how mature students are “competing” with younger school applicants. I agree that coverage of this sort is symptomatic of an unhelpful attitude that suggests mature students are somehow less legitimate as students. But a better observation on this topic is simply that it’s the new market reality. We keep hearing about how we’ll all have several careers, right? Well, for some, that necessarily suggests retraining. There’s no sense resenting older students for being where a lot of us will be in the future — there’s only a question of how the post-secondary system needs to adapt in response.

As a final observation, I sincerely hope that this growing interest among mature students in their shared identity and experiences forms the basis of a lasting association. The more mature students take an interest in their institutions and their education the happier I’ll be. Not only is it in their obvious self-interest to do so, but I also find that mature students exert a positive and productive influence on every student organization they become involved with. They are deeply motivated to be constructive — even while pursuing their criticisms — and a little more of that attitude would do a world of good for the student cause.


Questions are welcome at Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.


Mature students want to be understood

  1. Jeff,

    Thanks for contributing to our panel discussion and for bring it to the attention of the Macleans audience. It was a pleasure to meet you and so many others who came to share their stories as mature students.

    As moderator of the event, I felt all our guests had excellent comments and had an opportunity to network with the students after it wound down.

    Connectivity, networking, and ownership of one’s academic career were three major threads of discussion and I think they resonated well with the group which also include contingents from Laurentian in Sudbury and from Seneca College here in the GTA.

    Skyping was brought aboard last minute to bring in the Mount Allison audience. It worked quite well and it plus the successful success forum itself have already started discussions with a second event late this year or early next.

    For those who could not attend or who are just now discovering it, I will be writing more about the Mature Student Success Forum on my blog on Academica blog ( in the post or two. We recorded the event and will provide it as a downloadable file of some kind next month. Links will be posted on the CAMSO facebook page (

    Edward Fenner
    York University Mature Students Organization (YUMSO)
    Canadian Assembly of Mature Student Organizations (CAMSO)

  2. Hello Jeff

    I wish to thank you for your contribution at the Mature Student Success Forum at Ryerson. The panel discussion was very informative and interesting to hear about. I am a student who walked away with York envy, but I hope to be able to use York’s success as a platform to guide the administration at my University in a similar path.

    Tina Hall
    Lakehead University Mature Students Association (LUMSA)

  3. Thank you for participating Jeff! You were very informative and enlightening! Thank you as well for writing this article to help bring about awareness.

    Latoya Dickenson
    Social Director
    Mature Students Association at Ryerson

  4. Jeff,
    I would like to thank on behalf of Mature Student Association at Ryerson for being one our guest speaker for Mature Student Success Forum and providing an inspirational speech to mature students. Your speech was motivating and informative we have learned a lot from it. Once again thank you for being our guest speaker.
    Lalita Padathe
    Vice President
    Mature Students Association at Ryerson (MSAR
    **If you have Facebook please join our group

  5. I write this note with the benefit of hindsite and a bit of distance from my experience as a mature student. First of all, I did not get to attend univesrsity until I was 40 years old and graduated when I was 45. I did a BA and a year of law. My biggest problem would have been with those professors who really didn’t understand adult learners at all. They taught as if we were being spoon fed and empty receptacles of knowledge. There were many good professors but the ones that weren’t good were painful.

    Secondly, there are professors who do not have life experience and who think that the only knowledge comes from theoretical knowledge and really discount the value of applied knowledge. University could benefit if adult learners were allowed to contribute or challenge assumptions.