Mature students want to be understood - Macleans.ca

Mature students want to be understood

Conference at Ryerson draws large numbers, raises important issues

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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.

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